Sunday, September 04, 2016
My Old Friend...
I've never been really good with emotions. We were raised not to be expressive with our feelings. If we acted up in public, (getting upset or laughing too loudly) we'd be told to stop shaming ourselves. If my mom would see any signs of PDA (Public Displays of Affection) in strangers, she'd mumble under her breath that they were "dirty" and "bad". We were raised to believe that excessive touching caused trouble, the kind of trouble that could ruin your life. And most of all, that if you talked about your feelings, you were opening a door to those feelings. It was like summoning up a demon by saying its name. I can understand why. My dad was raised on a farm and went into the military; any extra feelings were seen as not particularly useful or needed for the sheer act of living. Survival was paramount and feelings weren't essential to that survival. My mom had grown up with very little and she had witnessed far too many people who had lost everything, because of bad decisions. Both of them were deeply affected when my brother left and tensions were high. Our household was charged with unspoken emotions, crackling beneath the surface. It was like living on top of a volcano. Any wrong word or action could set off an eruption of this dirty, bad, yucky, inessential excess. So we just didn't. We bottled it up and pressed it down deep. We'd swallow down sorrow or anger like too sweet strawberry milk with cartons decorated with cartoon rabbits; feeling at first good – the act of showing restraint, governing what threatened to be uncontrollable. But it'd coat our tongues with cordiality and then moments later sour quietly in the backs of our mouths. Maybe that's why all the kids ended up being artists, trying to work out their inner landscapes without openly having to say anything. All that hurt would be made beautiful if we put a frame around it or wore it around our necks.
Over the years, finding my own way, I've worked to be more at peace with the ebb and flow of my emotions. It hasn't been easy. And it still is something that I work on. I have to remind myself not to flinch away from contact and that it's okay to hug and to cry and to smile with your teeth showing.
Sometimes I get sad. And while there are those in my life who are horrified by this declaration (and part of me that is too), there is also a part of me that is okay that I'm sad and that I'm getting better at expressing myself. There's part of me that welcomes my old friend, the dark bloom that springs up randomly and without pattern. I know there are those who might read this and that their first reaction will be to interpret my words as a cry for help and try to make me happy. They'll offer suggestions on St. John's Wort or getting sleep or taking Vitamin D. They'll say that I need to take a break from work or that I need to do something fun to break me out of my funk. They want to be useful and helpful when really there isn't anything they can actually do. They see sadness as a dangerous and unpredictable presence. And to them, I say... I will be all right. Sadness can be a gift. It's not the gift you always want, but it is a gift nonetheless. To ignore it, to repress it, to hold it in, just builds up the pressure... until one day it explodes. If, however, you treat it as though it were an old friend, and you acknowledge it and listen to it and let it say what it needs to say, you'll walk away from the exchange better for having put forth the effort and the time.