The only way out is through
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(Read the companion post on my personal blog: "Feelings-Real: Processing Loss")
Over the last week, Iain, our 7 year old son, mourning the absence of his father who is away was sitting vigil at his father’s bedside has, at various times come to me to say:
“I feel like my windpipe’s being crushed.”
“On a 1 to 10 scale, it’s a 10. I feel awful.”
“My head feels all hazy and fuzzy.”
“I feel like I have daggers in my head.”
“Why is it so painful?”
“My whole body hurts.”
And, “Is this all just feelings?”
To which I replied “Yes, and what you’re feeling is still real. Not medicine-needing real, but feelings-real.”
He had asked for a Tylenol or an Ibuprofen. And only as I write this now do I realize: this is where it starts. Popping a pill will not make you feel better. Because this is not illness-real, it’s feelings-real. And the only way to change feelings-real, is to change the feelings behind them. And the only way to do that is to accept that we DO control our feelings - by what we think, what stories we tell ourselves. No pill or bottle or drug can solve that.
It starts here. Resilience. Emotional fluency. Listening to our bodies. Honoring our bodies. And not looking for quick fixes. Feel the pain, the hurt, the despair, the loneliness, the heartache. Feel all of of it. Let it wash over you. Let it cleanse you. So that you can also feel joy, hope, clarity, serenity, purpose, love, openness, gratitude. “Numb the dark and you numb the light” says Brene Brown. Wade into the dark water, the mire and the muck. It’s the only way to cross to the other side, to the light. Otherwise you stay where you are. On this bank. Looking across to the other, wishing you could be there, but not knowing how to.
The only way out is through.
The first time you become aware of the cliff edge you want nothing to do with it. No way are you getting close to that abyss that is the whole “vulnerable, authentic self thing”. That’s just marshy woo-woo swampland, a place you get lost and bogged down in. And really, you tell yourself, you’re doing ok. Sure, you could work on a few things, but who couldn’t?
But it’s like a siren call. Once you know its there, you find yourself drawn back to it. And life, and circumstances and events seem to conspire against you. Slowly, over weeks or months or years you find yourself being nudged closer. Until comes that first day when you are close enough – but not too close! – to peer over the edge. Your partner, your children, your coach, your mentor, your god, your inner widsom, your higher self - who or whatever it is that has brought you here, dammit, again – points out the scenery. You can see its beautiful over there, in that other country that is your real, authentic self. You’re free down there. Free to be yourself, to dare greatly, to be who you want to be, to be seen and heard for who you really are.
You want to get down there. But it’s a long way down, the jump looks terrifying and the journey impossible and scary. And you have no idea how to do it. In the meantime, you have all these things that keep you in your life now. Work, family, the need to earn an income, parenting, expectations – from others of you, of you of yourself. They are loving ties that bind you. And some are less loving, yes, that too.
And so you approach and retreat. As many times as it takes. As long as it takes. A little closer every time.
And then one day, you find yourself closer to the edge than you’ve ever been before. You realize that you’ve come a long way. That the country this side, this self that you keep on trying to be, is starting to feel more and more like a dead country. A “country of your skull” in the words of Antjie Krog. But down there is a living country. Lush, beautiful, alive.
And your companion voice, inside of you or next to you, shows you that you are ready, that you are not alone, and that you will have the tools and support you need to make a safe landing and bravely explore this new wilderness that is you. You will be able to walk chin up, shoulders broad, head high in that country. In that land you will not fear who or what you might meet, as on the journey there you will collect all the tools you need to flourish and thrive in this rich, verdant place.
And you find yourself right on the cliff edge, toes hanging over. Taking one breath after another. Just waiting until you are ready to take that one last step.
When you do you will be soaring, gliding. A little wobbly at first, but getting the hang of it fast. The freedom will be exhilarating and terrifying. You will feel boundless. You will be supported by the air. The wind is beneath your wings.
You take another breath in.
You jump when you’re ready.
Sue Mann - Coach
Reflections on how we reclaim and sustain our worthiness in the face of falls and challenges.