I think it’s a normal experience to want to hurry through painful emotions. At least in the U.S., there seem to be time limits to experiencing sadness. We even only allow a few days off work for the death of a loved one with the message being that you can only be dysfunctional about it for a couple of days. After that, it’s time to get back to work.
Breakups have even less time afforded to them. You can come to work looking like a hot mess for a day or take a sick day, but, girl, shake that off and get back to business. Bitch about him on your lunch break.
Do we even talk about the loss of a pet? If you take a sick day for that, you had better lie about the reason. Only your best friends and pet-loving social network will truly understand your loss.
That’s the message we get from society. Then, there is what we tell ourselves: It’s not normal to cry this much. It’s not normal to stay in bed a week after the dog died. It’s not normal to avoid getting back in the dating pool. We aren’t normal. This must be depression. Maybe we are forever broken? I guess I need a glass of wine, pint of ice cream, cuddle with the dog (oh shit, he’s dead sob), or online shopping spree.
And what happens when we smash down these feeling and try to distract ourselves from them? Eating disorders. Drug and alcohol issues. True depressive episodes. Dysfunctional relationships. The list goes on.
I’m not sure I really have a clear view on how dysfunctional I became when I lived my life avoiding or hurrying away bad feelings. I know, for example, it took me years of mindful living to learn to identify actual, physical pain in my body because I was so used to ignoring it. I know I was blindsided multiple times in relationships and friendships by people who were dishonest because I refused to let their smaller slights get to me. I know I cried giant painful sobs over a loss that seemed insignificant and went days without eating after a year of ignoring a significant trauma.
Ignored pain finds a way to surface when it’s neither expected nor convenient. As hard as it may be, it’s important to face the pain as much as you are able when it happens. Sometimes emotional pain comes at you not in one, complete instance, but repeatedly, perhaps slowly, over a period of time. That pain, in my experience, is the hardest to face. The extended period chips away at your ability to process and moving on isn’t possible.
I find sitting with pain – trauma, sadness, discomfort, or whatever you call it – is important even if for just a short time. It’s what truly allows me to heal and, usually, to heal more quickly. It’s a delicate balance, though, of sitting with pain and allowing yourself to process it, versus wallowing and ruminating. It takes practice. The goal is to feel the pain, just as much as you might feel joy or another happy feeling. Allow it to move through you. Give your body, mind, and spirit the time to understand.