My parents got divorced when I was four, and I went back and forth, four nights at my mom’s, three at my dad’s, the following week four at my dad’s, and so on and so on.
Once when I was about seven years old, I left my mom’s house and headed to school for a field trip. For whatever reason, I woke up that morning and didn’t want to be away from my mom for the next few days.
And I cried my way through The Museum of Natural History, past the elephants and tigers and bears, the scenes of Native Americans, the giant whale and the dinosaurs. I went to an after-school program, and I cried my way through that, as well.
When my step-mom came to pick me up, the director pulled her aside and said I’d had a really rough day. She let her know my teacher said I’d been crying at the museum, and that it had continued, and that she felt my step-mom would want to know.
My stepmother was so embarrassed, she walked 30 feet in front of me all the way home, so I was forced to run to keep up. I apologized over and over again. I told her I hadn’t actually cried the whole day, and that I was glad to see her. But she wouldn’t speak to me, and she was cold the whole time I was there that visit.
Before you go thinking my step-mom was some terrible person, let me say that she was not. She was 23 when she met my dad, so she was about 26 when this happened. And she took it personally, and she also worried that everyone would think things were horrible at my dad’s, or why would I be so upset?
People can only be where they are, and they can only have the tools they have. We all know what we know, until we learn more. She’d also call in and take the day off of work if I was sick, and she’d make me crepes and cover me with a blanket. She was a good person in a difficult situation, and she didn’t always rise to the occasion. Like most of us.
But anyway, I learned to push my feelings down. I understood if I said I missed my mom, this upset my stepmother, so I kept it to myself, even at school. I didn’t confide in teachers or friends, because I realized things got repeated, and people might let the cat out of the bag in an effort to help. When you start editing yourself and repressing your feelings as a child, it becomes a habit, a way of being. As a society, we often encourage our children to do just that. We tell them not to cry, not to be sad, or angry or scared. As if, “Don’t be sad” really solves anything. The message is: certain feelings make grown-ups uncomfortable, and therefore, they should not be expressed.
But we’re all going to feel everything in this life, and when you reject certain parts of yourself, you also lose touch with your own inner voice, your own intuition. You bury it until you can’t hear it anymore, or you close yourself off in your own little world, and grow into an adult who feels isolated and alienated and lost.
Your feelings are markers for how things are with you. They let you know if something is a yes or a no. They show you where there’s still healing to be done. They teach you about who you are and what you need. They’re not something you want to push down, because if you do, you’ll be lost.
The pain, anger, grief, shame, fear, guilt and/or confusion you might feel show you exactly where you are, and they point you in the right direction. To cut yourself off from those feelings is to lose the potential to heal, and to know yourself well and deeply.
And not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing there is. Feelings won’t kill you. But pushing them down certainly can. Maybe not literally, but anything within you that you reject will own you. We all long to heal, I truly believe that. If you want to sit with your feelings, that’s all you have to do. Sit down and breathe, and see what comes up. If you need help with that, as I did, I stream yoga and meditation classes online.
I teach because this is the way I healed, and few things make me happier than sharing tools that might help other people live life in a way that feels good to them.
You don’t have to act on every feeling you have. You don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. You don’t have to accept a feeling as a fact. And you do want to remember that no feeling goes on forever — how it is now is not how it will always be.
Facing yourself feels scary, but the more frightening thing is to avoid that work.