If You Ignore the Feelings, Eventually They Smack You on the Head and Knock You Down.
Hello! It is day 9 of my self commitment to write for 15 minutes each day.
Currently listening to Tastebreakers on Spotify and preparing for a big end of the year board meeting that is taking place tomorrow.
I have been writing my book for almost two years. I know they tell you not to tell a lot of people your big scary goals—but here we are, this series is all about demonstrating the ups and downs of self commitment so I share with you those ups and downs. My writing sometimes comes to me as I am driving, when I am listening to music, mid conversation about film tax incentives, at the race track watching the cars go round and round, on an airplane 30,000 feet about the ground.. One time I took an actual vacation and the words came flying out of me each morning as I watched the sunrise over Palm Springs. Hint Hint, nudge nudge; vacation works for creativity.
This morning a bright pink Post It fell from inside my desk drawer. It was from one of those moments where I needed to just get the thought out on paper. It read:
The sadness was like a heavy blanket I wore draped across my shoulders everywhere I went. It pulled him down with me and my desperation to be seen the way she saw me would destroy everything we had tried to build.
I can tell you the exact moment I felt like this. I was 21 and dating the first love of my life. He was tall and funny and light. He was steady and consistent but young. His smile went on for miles and he was, and everyone will tell you, the life of the party. He loved fun. It was one of my favorite thing about him, until my mom died. We had a conversation when the cancer spread to my mom’s liver. We hadn't been dating more than six months and because I had been dealing with cancer for a decade, I knew what spreading to the liver really meant. It meant the end. I remember laying in my college room in my twin bed with him and saying, “You don’t have to stay for this. I don’t know how I am going to be on the other side and I do not in anyway expect you to be here.” I meant it. I meant it with everything that I knew at the sweet age of 21. I was fully aware that my life with a mom with cancer was very different than those around me. There was a seriousness to me, kind of in the way they call people old souls. I suppose I was an old soul before my mom got sick, but something about navigating that for so long really molds you. I also was deathly afraid of him seeing me in any other light than the one he saw me in up to that moment.
Eight months go by. My mom passes away on an early summer morning, around 5am. Hours later I get back out of bed and he takes me to lunch, we went to Red Robin. I have no idea what we talked about. I have no idea what he said or how I behaved. I was completely removed from reality. From that moment forward nothing was the same, as you would expect. He was still tall and funny and light and I was hungry to be funny and light but I was so sad. All I wanted was my mom and anything else was never going to be good enough. There was a giant hole in my heart and I had no idea how to fill it. I wanted to be held like she held me. I wanted my forehead to be stroked by her soft hands. I wanted a mom, and instead I had a tall, funny and light adorable boyfriend.
He was homecoming king. I was keeping my head above water. I wanted to go to events, I wanted to be the life of the party and I tried. And each time I tried I went home even more sad than I came. One weekend we went to Tenneseee with a group of friends to have a college weekend away. It was beautiful, the nature was expansive and the house we were staying in was very fancy. I had the hardest time putting on a show, but I tried with all of my might. I still have journals from the nights I stayed there expressing my sadness and longing for my mom. In those journals are pages of me wishing I was different, wishing I hadn’t lost her, wishing I could be the life of the party. But I wasn’t, this was my new reality and it was on display in all of the worst places. And that’s the really dark thing about grief. We are so afraid to show people that side of us, the scared and sad and lonely side that we hold it so close to us. We try to be warriors and carry the blanket alone. Who knows how he would have reacted if I had told him how I was feeling. Who knows how he would have showed up if I would have said, “I am so scared, and I am miss my mom so much I can’t breathe.” Would he have held me in his arms and stroked my forehead? I don’t know. I was so afraid of exposing myself that I never gave him the chance. And then I carried that damn blanket for a long time and it seeped into my bones and I tried to carry all of that sadness and fear on my own and eventually, the blanket just became too heavy.
I had a mentor at the time who I worked for as a teacher’s assistant. His office would become one of the only places where I could be me. He expected nothing, he spoke to me in a soft and understanding voice and he made space for me. It’s almost as if he had some sort of conversation with my mom before she left and promised her he would hold space for me. It was one of the most important aspects related to my ability to go on during that period of time The thing about this stage of the sadness was that it was not a lay in bed can’t do anything type of sadness, It was full on disruption. I laid awake at night, eyes wide open, tears falling down wondering what was real and what was true. In my mom’s last months I had moved home to help out and I stayed after she passed. The months following my dad would pop in around 6am and there I would be, teary eyed and exhausted and I would look at him and say, “Daddy, why does it hurt so bad?”. It hurt so unbelievably bad.
Grief is a heavy blanket that drapes over our shoulders and goes with us everywhere we go. Eventually we have to lay the blanket down or eventually the blanket forces us to collapse.. Eventually we are faced with a big decision; pick ourselves back up and leave the blanket behind, or stay down on the ground and let the blanket cover us completely. I wish I could have articulated all of this to my tall, funny and light boyfriend. Only because it is more fair than the way it happened. Only because maybe he would have had a chance to grow too. Instead we parted ways, lessons learned and respect in tact.
The reason that self determination, self comittment, self love is so important is for these moments exactly. There is nothing I can do about being 21 and losing my mom to cancer. Nothing. Believe me (she types with a bit of laughter). But there is so much I can do with the understanding of how this affected me, of the breaking down of how all of this made me feel and made me who I am. If we continue to walk around blind to ourselves, blind to our triggers, blind to our true desires and needs, we will continue to feel that heavy blanket draping over our shoulders.
Self awareness is a magical tool. It enables stronger relationships, better leadership, clarity of decisions. It is a muscle, as I have said before. If you are living without self awareness and exploration you can tend to project your pain and grief and suffering onto others. It is an energy exchange that you have to take responsibility for. Or not, you can certainly not take responsibility for it, but I guarantee that whatever you dream for your life will not come to fruition until you take this responsibility.
And what does taking responsibility lead to? Radical self acceptance. They say the last stage of grief is acceptance—and perhaps in some contexts that means acceptance of ourselves. Acceptance of where we are. Acceptance of how we got here. And then after acceptance, after compassion, after self love, comes possibility. And, when we truly accept ourselves thats when we have the strength to say, “Hey, this who I am, this is what I carry, can you help me?”.
What have you overcome and accepted? How has it helped you grow into the person you desire to be? I hope your self commitments are sticking and you are enjoying the process. To continue this discussion shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear how your self commitments are shaping up and ways you are accepting yourself.