The other day, while I was walking, I found myself replaying past events that were relatively minor, but they were situations that dredged up some emotional triggers, where I was upset, but held my tongue. I was imagining what I would have liked to have said and it was something along the lines of unleashing “holy hell” on the person I was “talking” too. Now I know that some schools of thought actually advocate this – when you experience something where you felt powerless, to replay that event, but to alter your involvement so that you were in control or so that you say what you wanted to say, as a means of addressing the emotional stressor and resolving that particular issue. (I think it’s called “re-casting.”) I’m on the fence about how helpful I think that practice is.
For me, and for this particular instance, I don’t think I was trying to resolve anything, I was just upset and I was imagining myself saying honest, but hurtful things to various people. What was different was that I caught myself doing it. I wondered why it was that on this beautifully gorgeous day, where I’m walking to improve my health and fitness, why was I stuck in this flood of negative thinking? And it kept happening. I’d tell myself that that issue was resolved and I didn’t need to waste any more energy on it. Moments later, I’d hear my inner voice berating someone else.
So I stopped walking. I found a shady spot under a nearby tree in the park and did some thinking. I had a heart to heart with myself that went something like this:
“C’mon, Micah, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know!”
“Why are you replaying these difficult events that are over and done with? Why are you re-hashing these difficult experiences when it serves no purpose? What are you really so upset about?”
“I don’t know what I’m upset about!”
“Well, clearly, something is bothering you. Why are you imagining conversations that you know you aren’t ever going to have in real life and that aren’t productive? What’s going on? What’s really bothering you?”
“I don’t know what’s really bothering me! Maybe it’s just the stress of not being able to find the work placement I wanted. Maybe I just feel lonely and don’t want to admit it. Maybe I feel stuck with where I’m at in life and don’t really know how to move forward. Maybe I’m just trying to focus my energy on this stuff rather than facing the ‘real’ issue?”
“Well if you really don’t have anything truly bad going on in life, than what IS the real issue...?”
And that’s when the light bulb went on – there wasn’t a “real” issue! There really wasn’t anything bad going on and THAT was the problem!!
It dawned on me that I feel like I always having to be fighting something. My whole life I’ve been fighting something – being overweight; being molested; being gay in a very traditional, family-oriented religion; being overweight; depression; being overweight; suicidal tendencies; being overweight (yes, that one tends to come up a lot!!); being underappreciated at work; getting through undergrad and grad school; dealing with divorced parents and blended family dynamics; years of therapy; and the list goes on and on. I’ve always been fighting something – with the intent to improve my life, yes, but always fighting.
And now, all that fighting has paid off. I’m in a good place. I’ve come to terms with so much that has happened to me. I’ve done some pretty damn hard work to accept myself and my circumstances – especially the things that were done to me, or out of my control. And on my walk that day, I found myself in a good place. In a completely unexpected twist of irony, I’ve lived for so long “fighting” that I didn’t know how to handle being in a good place. I was so uncomfortable with nothing to fight against that I didn’t know what to do; so I mentally created something to fight. I created feelings of negativity and turmoil, because that has become my comfort zone.
How stupid is that?!
I’m not being hard on myself, here. I’m grateful for that epiphany. I am grateful to be in a good place, finally!! Is my life perfect? Of course not! I still have challenges and hardships. But I also have really good days. Like the day I was taking that walk. It really was shaping up to be a perfect day. I just had no idea that a “perfect day” would bring me so much stress!!
And speaking of fighting, I have always been fighting “bad” emotions,* like sadness and anger. I never learned how to feel those emotions appropriately, because I was taught that they are “bad” emotions and that if I was feeling them it was because I was doing something wrong. That is not only inaccurate, it’s unhealthy. (I think this has HUGE religious implications and I don’t mean specific to the LDS religion, but to virtually all religions.)
Every human emotion is valid and meant to be felt or experienced. The challenge is learning how to handle those emotions appropriately – not to avoid feeling them. I have been doing so much work on trying to experience “bad” emotions in a healthy way that I didn’t realize that I had villainized ALL emotions. Meaning that if I was feeling bad emotions I was doing something wrong, but conversely if I was feeling good emotions I was being complacent or I was “letting my guard down,” which was also wrong, because something is always bound to go wrong – because life is a fight.
It never occurred to me that I would be just as uncomfortable feeling “good” emotions as I was feeling “bad” emotions. It’s like I have to convince myself that it’s okay when everything is okay.
I am grateful for my walk that day. Ever since that insight I’ve been feeling more hopeful and more at peace with myself. I feel like my all-or-nothing mentality (common among abuse/trauma victims) is beginning to diminish. Meaning, I can accept that life has ups and downs and that I don’t have to sacrifice my happiness during the “ups,” in fear of the “downs,” but that I can just appreciate that life will always rock back and forth between the two and that is as it should be.
*NOTE: I put the word “bad” in quotations because I actually think all emotions are good. When I say “bad” now, what I really mean is that some emotions are unpleasant to experience, but, when it comes to emotions, unpleasant and bad are not the same things!