How Do You Feel?
And what can happen if no one asks
Haven’t asked yourself how you feel in a while?
Tempted to say the usual?
I came across an excellent read the other day. It challenged me to sit down and figure out how the hell I was feeling beyond a blunt “OK.”
When you do, you may notice you’re neither content nor down, but caught up somewhere in-between. While there are heady days and feats of bravery, there’re disquieting thoughts and deadening fears at the same time.
I started wondering why it was that way.
Do you sometimes?
A silent cry that no one hears
Many of us recall tense outbreaks of grief we often handled quietly.
After all, weren’t we taught to stay strong no matter what mud or nonsense others were throwing at us? And not to let frustration, heartache, or pain take control of us?
When my first boyfriend dumped me, I didn’t cry on my mom’s shoulder. She offered me champagne the minute I broke the news.
“He’s not worth it.”
That was her first reaction as she sat me down and uncorked the bottle.
“Congratulations. You deserve better.”
That was her second remark in-between sips of ice-cold bubbles. I felt strong; champagne does this to me.
She didn’t mention my broken heart that night (or any other) or the countless tears I cried into my pillow for many nights to come. Or the rage I felt but didn’t show with my mom’s words echoing in my head like a crazy drum.
You deserve better. You deserve better. You deserve better.
These words stuck with me for a long time — they became my mantra. Ironically, I had no idea what the “better” would look or even feel like.
Surprisingly, I still have no clue.
A journey that has no end
What followed was a trip of over three decades, unknowingly in the constant quest for the “better” in my life. It spanned across relationships, jobs, and places to live that I called home.
Surely, I’d find the elusive jewel on the beach on Bali, or high in the Himalayas while trekking, while serving in Kathmandu, or while jeopardizing my sanity in Afghanistan — for Christ’s sake, the “you deserve better” had to be somewhere.
Over time, my mom’s repertory of personal acknowledgments to my unrest became more refined.
“You’re too good for this world” was her latest creation.
Hmm. Of course, I had to go and check it out. My traveling intensified. New countries. More encounters. Great fun. Amazing adventures. And more loneliness.
I clearly remember the last time my mom uttered these specific words. She had me in tears. “Maybe it’s time to become an arsehole” was my feeble response and all I could endure thinking of at the sad moment.
A path that slowly turns home
When we travel back in time, we can see where things have started to go off track.
Like that evening on the couch with my mom.
She was thrilled that my involvement with that uninspiring police officer had ended. No such son-in-law, strike! As if he was an offender and not just an upright suburban town cop who gave his best for a while.
But after all, it was just that I deserved better. Didn’t I?
As we sipped along, I nodded. I wanted to see it in my mom’s way. After all, she was my mother, and she would know what she was going on about.
My mom — like most — meant well. They want us to learn to take the fast lane.
We get this.
But if we agree with others’ judgment, it sometimes requires us to deny the very truth of what’s right in front of us.
When the boyfriend vanished and left me with a sore heart, I dulled my emotions. I pulled up the inner wall a little higher to shield me from further hurt. At least I thought it would.
But you can’t drown your pain — no matter what causes it. You can’t erase it like a sloppy pencil mark. Or ignore it like a stranger you pass by.
But here’s the sad thing: many of us do. For years, decades, and sometimes for the rest of our lives.
Because we’ve had no one to ask us how we felt when we needed it the most.
It’s OK to feel (whatever)
Most of us have been trained to numb unpleasant feelings to avoid pain that naturally evolves. It’s easier (we think) to retain the wall around a bleeding heart. Unfortunately, it’s the same wall that holds us hostage to a false story that we confuse for reality.
But if you want to push forward, start by asking yourself AND others:
How do you feel? I mean, really.
And notice what you’re discovering. There may be pain and tears for all the unfulfilled dreams and missed chances, or the inability to reveal the love and affection for yourself and others.
Don’t brush over your feelings. Allow them to be. And listen to them.
Once you do, you can then say
and really mean it.