The tears started as soon as I dropped off Nico at school on Friday. An emptiness set in – the holidays, kids with Matt’s family, not much work to do, plans falling through for Christmas eve and Christmas day. I was suddenly hit with a wave of grief. I pulled over because it was hard to see through the puddles forming in my eyes and called my friend Viola. “I’m having a really hard moment,” I began. “I won’t see the boys for a while, I don’t have plans for Christmas, I don’t have a partner, I’m tired of being alone all the time, I’m afraid I’ll be alone forever. I’m just feeling really sorry for myself… ” I wept.
“Oh honey,” she replied. “I know this feeling so well. I’m so sorry you’re feeling that right now.”
We continued to talk, made some plans for the week, caught up on our lives, talked about how the holidays bring up so much and it’s never perfect. At the end of the conversation, I felt so much better. “Thank you,” I told her, “for just letting me have that emotion in its pure form. Thank you for not talking me out of it – that was an incredible gift.”
I’ve thought about this a lot in the days since – how quickly that feeling was able to move through when it was simply felt, honored and witnessed. It would have been easy for her to argue the feeling – you’re not alone, you have your boys and your friends and your family that loves you… and however true, that wasn’t the point. That would have simply layered on shame for feeling the feeling in the first place. I would have ended up apologizing for being so indulgent.
Sociologist Dr. Christine Carter says that strong emotions only actually last about 90 seconds. That is, if we let ourselves feel them without adding any story or suppressing them. They are e-motions, designed to move through us. (Think of a child and how quickly they move from one emotion to the next)
This is good news for us. Sometimes we are afraid that if we move toward our difficult feelings they will devour us, drag us under and engulf us. What’s more true is that allowing ourselves to have them, while shining a light of loving attention on them (either from ourselves or another) is a very miraculous kind of medicine.
We can practice this. We can trust in time that this is how it works.