I get the temptation.
But we need to feel the loss.
If I tell myself I’m a terrible person (remember shame comes from beliefs about who we are ) for feeling disappointed my husband and I can’t take our kids on the trip to the Grand Canyon I’ve been looking forward to since before I even had kids, I focus more on judging myself than the pain of loss. And you can bet if I start judging myself, I’m just lying in wait to judge others.
And we will all go down together.
But what if we didn’t? What if we just agreed that I can be a person who feels grief about my son’s soccer tournament and my trip to Seattle AND cares that the elderly are terrified for their health, and aren’t even allowed visits from family or clergy or hairdressers for comfort. That people are already getting smaller paychecks, going without enough food and medical supplies — and are up at 5 am in terror, the same way I am up in grief.
For me there is more danger in minimizing the feelings — numbing them through booze and TV and food and disconnection. In fact, after my friend’s comment at dinner, I paid my check and left. I am not proud of it, but it’s the best I could do at the time. I’m all up in my feelings like the rest of us, and I’m tired.
But here’s what I wish I could have said — to myself and maybe to her:
“I’m going to be sad about my thing. I know myself well enough to know I’m not going to run out of caring for the bigger stuff.”
Right before my second baby was born, I had a somber, completely serious conversation with my husband about feeling terrible that I wouldn’t be able to love my newborn son as much as I had his older sister.
“I’m going to have to work hard to give him everything I gave Lucy,” I explained tearfully. “I just hope I’m up to it.”
Yeah, I know. But I didn’t then. I didn’t understand that I have infinite caring. I can love my daughter and my son (and my other son) without putting them in competition with each other. My love and caring are limitless.
Which is not to say my attention and energy are limitless. We confuse this. Attention and energy do have limits — there are only so many hours in the day. And the trick is — I have to use discretion with my energy — put thought into where I put my focus. Feelings drive that focus. If I don’t feel my feelings how will I know how my life needs me to live it?
I’ve sort of been a grown-up most of my life. I have a strong, internal judge who sounds just like my friend’s voice. It basically says — “what’s wrong with you? This doesn’t matter. If you were a better/prettier/kinder/smarter/ taller person, you wouldn’t feel this way.”
I’ve also sort of been a disappointed kid my whole life. I’m hurt when things don’t work out. I hate when I do my part but can’t make things happen. I loathe when things aren’t fair. My kid part says, “if I was better/prettier/kinder/smarter/taller it wouldn’t have happened.” Or sometimes it says, “If I had better people around me, this wouldn’t have happened.” Sort of depends on the day.
And most of the time, my adult and my kid are in the same room talking over each other.
But what if my adult part just hugged my disappointed kid part? What if they sat on the couch together in the BOTH/AND of it all.
I feel for the people who are much more impacted by this terrifying chaos and will put my attention and energy there AND I feel disappointed for me, and my family and my kids (not the dog. The dog jumped a fence and stole an hour of my life chasing her around the neighborhood. We are currently not speaking).
I know some of you hate what I’m suggesting. I’m fine with that. For those of you who are tempted to judge me — just remember judgment is pushing feelings away. When you say, “what kind of a person cares about Spring Break when people in China are dying?” you aren’t rising above disappointment, you are just shoving it under the bed and pretending it’s not there.
Feelings shoved into dark places, hidden and never spoken of is how shame begins to grow. Something that starts as a simple, normal feeling becomes a monster under the bed.
If you’re having trouble showing up for your feelings and would rather reason with them — imagine what would have happened if I said to my daughter, “You shouldn’t be crying. Other people have it much worse, “ before she got there herself.
You can see it, can’t you? She’d either yell and scream and get louder with her feelings (not her way) or immediately dry her tears and never show me her hurt again (ahh, that’s my Lucy).
When we tell children we don’t like their difficult feelings, what they hear is we don’t like THEM. If we leave children alone with hard emotions, they confound how they feel with who they are. Can you see the shame growing right before your eyes?
Everything about these next few weeks and months is going to be harder than normal. Let’s just agree to try and be kind to ourselves and each other when it comes to feeling our feelings.
Today I plan on stomping around the house complaining about the loss of writing time, loss of hours doing my beloved job, time with friends, time exercising (ok, my imaginary exercise). Instead, I’ll be Anne of Green Gables the teaching years…
And hopefully, sometime before bed, my temper tantrum will end and I’ll start to look forward to extra time with my kids who I actually really like, extra time with my giant pile of books, extra time to try recipes that require more thought than the 20 minutes I usually have to cook, extra time to finally train the puppy…
No promises on timing, but I know where I’m headed.
See you there?