Friday, February 3, 2012

Experience the Feelings

A couple weeks ago, after I had written my Toni Morrison letter, which is mostly about feeling (Beloved is a beautiful commentary on what it means to feel), I was talking to one of the wonderful former therapists I happen to have floating around my life about what I was thinking and writing. She told me, "I think the thing that one has to learn to do is EXPERIENCE one's feelings. It's very possible to "let feelings out" without ever acknowledging or understanding them. When you DO understand them -- when you "feel the feelings", as they tell addicts to do -- then letting them out is one possibility. And if it's a conscious decision, it's probably healthy. Sometimes (and this seems weird, but it is powerfully true) just bringing them into the light of consciousness is enough to deal with them; they don't have to be vented, shared, massaged over, whatever. Sometimes, just looking in the light and saying "there it is" is enough to take the power out of it and feel changed."
I love this, and I've taken a few weeks thinking it through.
The potential English major in me just likes the diction. Like emotions are something to actively participate in, rather than something that just happens on the sideline while real life continues on center stage. I think it also makes feelings more personal; they belong to me because I experienced them, they're not just things that exist. I like the idea of letting feelings stomp around and be feelings.
I've experienced this process and I totally agree. I'll carry around feelings for great lengths of time - being irritable or short-tempered or fragile in the meantime - before I'll sit down and write a five or so pages in my journal. And somewhere in those pages, I get from a irritable, short-tempered rant to a vulnerable this-is-what's-actually-going-on. When I can do that, when I can acknowledge what's bothering me - I'm feeling like a bad daughter or friend or sister, I'm worried about growing up, I'm stressed about expectations, I'm resenting being on a short leash, I'm feeling alone - once it's out, I feel released. Even though it's usually hard to deal with what's actually there, dealing with it is easier than burying it deep down. Because the thing about burying emotions deep down is that they fight to be acknowledged. They show up in the moments when I have grossly exaggerated emotional reactions -- like the time over Christmas break that I started crying when the ice cream place didn't have chocolate. I know that it's easier to say "I'm missing my friends and I'm tired of family vacation" than to burst into tears in the ice cream shop.
I guess, the thing is, I'm still learning how to not avoid feelings. How to not stuff them down in the first place. How to experience them. I think I'll get there eventually.
After all, I do not want a rusted tobacco tin where my heart belongs.

1 comment:

  1. "Feel the pain," is what someone told me long ago, and I still struggle with it. I don't think you can be a writer without that kind of personal awareness.