It's Not So Bad
I think it's important, especially in the face of tragedy, to find gratitude. I'm not talking about toxic positivity or wishful thinking. I don't mean trying to convince yourself that everything is wonderful when it isn't. But my brain, like all human brains, tends to lean toward the negative. It can be mean and critical and impatient. And whatever negative thoughts I am thinking, my brain will start looking for evidence of how they could be true. So if I tell myself I'm a total failure, I will notice that I didn't get everything done on my to do list, I was impatient with my kid, I forgot to eat breakfast and I was late to my appointment AGAIN. But if I remind myself that I am doing the best I can, I would see that I made time to exercise, I checked in on a friend and I packed my son his favorite lunch for school.
I try to guide my thoughts in a more positive direction without shoving fake affirmations down my throat. I keep a journal, recite mantras and practice meditation. I pray in my own way. I thank my lucky stars. At the end of the night, my son and I like to list a few things that went well that day. To name what brought us joy. To see that it wasn't a complete disaster. Also, when I step outside into nature, I can't help but be awestruck. The smell of the flowers, the sun always shining and the ocean breeze make me believe that I am where I am supposed to be and I am thankful.
But I also think there's a fine line between looking on the bright side and minimizing your experience. One of the gifts that came from losing my husband is all of the work I've been doing on myself. I've been learning who I really am, what happened to me and how I respond to all of my trauma. Something I've noticed is that I tend to downplay big events in my life. It's not so bad. It's no big deal. It could have been worse. I've always been careful not to play the victim and to make it known how strong I am. I like to prove that I am capable of overcoming. I make sure not to appear to be weak. I am seeing that this is just another way to avoid my feelings. To take the spotlight off of me. And to demean myself for having a human response.
I used to buy into the whole fake it till you make it mentality. Pushing through pain and ignoring emotions. Pretending that everything was okay. Telling myself that I shouldn't even care. I'm making a big deal out of nothing. I don't even know why I'm crying. I should be over this by now. But I learned the hard way that that approach only leads to unresolved trauma and panic attacks. I'm trying with all my might to allow my feelings. To take breaks. To stop running. Stop fighting. To stop shaming myself for the way that I feel. I'm trying to just slow down. To be still. In stillness I can notice the sound of birds singing or the colors of the sky or the smile on my son's face when I pay attention to him.
Because I was constantly criticized and belittled as a child, I never really learned to trust myself. I never believed that I knew what was best for me. So I question the way that I feel. I wonder if I'm overreacting. I think I might be blowing things out of proportion. I am certain that I shouldn't feel the way I do. I'm never quite sure if I should respond, or react or just walk away. I try to numb or ignore my emotions to avoid embarrassment and humiliation. I'm always afraid I'll do the wrong thing. I'll make a fool of myself. I'll make a scene.
Something I know about myself to be true is that I am careful to protect other people's feelings. I like to include everyone and make them feel welcome. I don't want anyone to feel left out. And I can't stand the thought of people's feelings getting hurt. So whenever I share any part of my story with someone, I then worry about how they might feel about what I am telling them. I don't want them to take pity on me or think less of me in any way. I don't want them to be shocked or worried that I'm not okay. I don't want them to be upset or disturbed by what I've said. I find myself reassuring others that whatever happened to me is not so bad. I make light of it. I blow it off. I try to make them feel better about what has happened to me.
I'm not entirely sure I deserve the attention required from feeling out loud. I don't want o inconvenience anyone by having to comfort and console me. Maybe I'm not worth the effort it takes another person to see me and feel with me what has happened. I don't feel allowed to have other people care for me and nurture me and be with me while I grieve and emote and heal. I was conditioned to believe I shouldn't take up any space. I should live in the shadows. I should play small.
But above all else I've realized that If I acknowledge how traumatic and devastating and painful something was for me, I would also have to acknowledge all the traumatic and devastating and painful feelings that come with that. If I admit that what has happened has affected me in some way, I would also have to allow all the big, scary feelings like sadness, resentment, fear and rejection to come to the surface. I would have to make space for them. I would have to deal with them. I would have to feel them. And I'm not sure I can handle that.
In an ideal world, I would just react normally to any given situation. I would accept whatever emotions show up without anyone else's approval or permission or judgement. I would look inside my body for information on how I feel. I would trust my gut to tell me when something is wrong. I would pay attention when something or someone makes me feel frightened or uncomfortable or mad. I wouldn't look for validation before saying no. I would see red flags for what they are. I would honor how I feel. But I am new here. I am learning how to do life in a whole new way. One lesson at a time. Like a child, receiving information and processing it for the first time ever. And it's fascinating and rewarding and impossible all at the same time.