I feel like I have been through the fire. Like I have been covered with a thick layer of charred skin that has built up over time. Every time a new hurt, disappointment, or crisis occurred my “skin” would crack a little, and pain would bleed out. In a short time the anger and defensiveness would come cover that area and the scar would become a little thicker.
The initial shock and numbness eventually wears off after a great loss, and you are left having to go on day after day, trying to adjust to your new circumstances, and it can be exhausting. I found that in my grief, I was able to use this pain and anger to fuel me. It could give me energy to get up in the morning and go. At work it enabled me to power through the day no matter how difficult. After work I would go to the gym and let that same pain and anger ramp up my exercise, then go home exhausted, hoping that I would sleep through the night.
I have been trying, for a long time, to reconcile what I have been feeling with what I have been told I should be feeling, or more specifically what I should not be feeling. Conventional wisdom is that anger is bad. How am I supposed to not feel it? How am I supposed to process it? How can I be authentic if I am denying what I am feeling?
Sometimes figuring something out, or learning something new is a matter of seeing it in a different way. I remember when I was learning to start IV’s. I had read about it. I’d seen it done over and over again. I’d started a few, but just wasn’t really getting the hang of it until an EMT name Joe showed me how you advance the catheter until you see blood come back into it and then, just a tiny bit more to make sure that the end of the plastic catheter is fully in the vein, and then slide it in. That one thing, pushing the IV in a little bit further was the one thing that I had been missing. The people who had taught me before did a good job, however, it had become intuitive to them, so fluid and instinctive that they were unable to see what I had been missing.
So about two weeks ago, on Monday, my day was good. On Tuesday it was also good, and I thought to myself “I am not sad”. I know you were all expecting that this day would come at some point. For you it is intuitive or you have seen it happed to others in your life. For me, being happy can feel little dicey. When the world as you know it has suddenly come to an end, you have to learn to trust all over again. It is easier to rely on a thick layer of scab and scar than to allow happiness to be stolen away from you.
Over the next week or so I started coming across bits of wisdom that helped break it down in a way I could understand:
“Your feelings don’t have to mesh with what you think they should be. They’ll be there regardless, so you might at well welcome them they hold important clues.” Janet Gottleib, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.
“Your heart can be unlocked and open without becoming unhinged.” Abi Stumvoll
“Suit up and show up for yourself. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. What matters it that you do it.” Jules, Sorry For Your Loss
My brain works in images. Most of the time it latches on to some verbal snippet or idea and runs with it creating a picture. For example, one day my sister was texting me about getting miso at the grocery store. I asked where in the grocery store she found it. Thanks to autocorrect she replied “in the hippie cooker”. Immediately I visualized a bunch of long haired, tie-dye wearing hippies in a giant cauldron over a fire. While I was laughing I texted back “What?” and she clarified “in the hippie cooler, near the tofu”.
Forward to this past Sunday. In evening worship I suddenly got it. I had an image of myself with my charred skin. All the thick layers fell off me. The funny thing was that what I thought were thick, impenetrable layers became a fine dust pooled around my feet. I thought to myself “out of ashes into a new life. I just have to choose to step out of the ashes.”
So here it is: I don’t need a thick layer to protect me from the world or to prevent myself from going to pieces. I am here to be a part of life, to interact with it and the people around me. Every day love, loss, joy, anxiety, wonder, anger and much more mingle together in and around us. The feelings are not who I am they are clues to what is happening in my mind, body and soul. I just have to suit up and show up.