Over drinks with a friend who happens to be going through the same situation as I the other night, the conversation naturally centered around what we are both reluctantly trudging through; Divorce. With Children. And all the intense suckiness that tags along with the process. Inevitably, as the conversation evolved, we came to a topic that I have become accustomed to arising in these types of discussions; my attitude. My incessant optimism and prevailing positive attitude, despite the negative circumstances.
I was venting about how shitty my week had been; how I was pissed-off at everyone around me and found myself crying in my car in the parking lot every single day. She naturally understood the emotional extremes I was describing and had recently experienced several weeks like that herself.
I then mentioned that in the midst of my anger and despair and grief and frustration filled Week-From-Hell, that I had written a couple of blog posts expressing just exactly how crappy I was feeling. But that I just couldn’t bring myself to publish them.
“I couldn’t put all of my negativity vomit out there – no one wants to read about how pissed off I am – I would just seem like an ungrateful asshole complaining about how terrible my life is. So many people have it worse.”
“True.” She agreed. “But it would be authentic. I would read about you having a crappy week and think, ‘See – she really is human. She has shitty weeks just like me, when I just want to shut the world out’.”
Hmm…. This got the wheels turning. And it made me realize that perhaps I haven’t been as authentic as I’ve been preaching. I filter out the bad days, the ones where I’m certain that I’m destroying my children and that life is simply never going to be okay again. I wait until those days have passed, then reflect on what I’ve learned, and bring you my optimistic conclusions.
But the reality is, I am human. And I am going through something really fricken hard. And the truth is that being human means that some days I don’t have a SINGLE OUNCE of perspective. Some days I am fighting back tears more often than not, and some days I drive like a complete ASSHOLE because I feel like the world owes me something. Being human means that some days I lose my cool and scream bloody murder when I’m trying to corral an 11 month old and a 4 year old to get out the door on time, on my own, for the fourth day in a row, and both the dog and the baby have blowouts, causing me to be late, once again, because of (quite literally) shit. Being human means that some days I might excuse myself to go cry in my car because people are complaining, to my face, about their husbands…again. You know, husbands… those guys who marry you and stand by your side and help you with the kids and sometimes take the garbage out and if nothing else, are there to give you a hug at the end of a shitty day. That thing that, in case you forgot, I no longer have. Call it jealousy, bitterness or whatever you want, some things are just a little too salty right now for my freshly cut wound.
So in the spirit of authenticity, yes – I have shitty days that DON’T end with a silver lining. But here’s the kicker – I have learned to let myself have shitty days. I allow the sadness to surface and invite it right on in because I’ve learned that through it is the only way out. There is simply no point in suppressing the sadness or the grief or the anger and frustration, because it’s there. It’s there for a reason. And it’s not going anywhere until it’s served its purpose. So I sit and I ask it what the hell it wants from me and tell it to just go ahead and take it. Sometimes it’s a good scream. Sometimes it’s the longest, most brutal, ugliest cry you’ve ever seen. Sometimes it just wants me to sit outside and not do a single thing but listen to the birds for hours. Sometimes after giving it what it wants and letting it surface and marinate for a while, I find that it identifies itself as something completely unexpected… like loneliness. And the cool thing is that in identifying it and bringing it to light, it somehow reduces its power over me.
During a therapy session in the midst of Week-From-Hell, my therapist suggested I go a step further while sitting with these painful emotions and give them a name. I raised my eyebrows, tilted my head forward and looked at her as though maybe she was the one who should be sitting on the couch.
“By giving it a name” she explained, “You are identifying the pain as something outside of yourself. It helps you recognize that it’s something separate from you.”
Kay… this was starting to make a little bit of sense. I asked her to continue.
“Naming the painful emotion helps you realize that you are not your loneliness, for instance. And that it is something that comes and goes, but doesn’t define you. You can choose whether to let it in or shut it out. Without identifying as something outside of you, it can feel like it has all the power over and consumes you.”
She was damn right. So we named the crappiest emotion, the loneliness, Gary. Yup, I named my loneliness, Gary. Dear God.
So when Gary, or Steve (anger) or Rick (fear) knock on my door, I can say:
“Oh hey there, Steve. Come on in, it’s been a while. What’s that? You want me to slam this door and punch that person in the face? Yeah, that’s cool. How about we go for a run and you can tell me all about why you are here, and then when we’re done you can go ahead and show yourself out.“
But… the nice part is that, because I really am an optimistic person by nature, I really do know it will get better. I know that the visits from these nasty fellas will become fewer and farther between, as long as I continue to invite them in and sit with whatever it is they are bringing. And then maybe, once those nasty fellas have served their purpose and their visits are far less frequent, I will be in a place where I’m ready to invite in a nice fella who comes knock’n at my door. Maybe.
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