Staying calm in the midst of chaos and uncertainty has not been easy for me in my life. I feel triggered by the circumstances relating to this COVID 19 pandemic. The craziness of it. The isolation. The paranoia. The feeling of scarcity. The confusing and ever-changing information. It reminds me of my childhood. Of my mom’s mental illness. I know logically that this isn’t that. My inner parts don’t know it though.
What’s good is that I’m getting a chance to grow in my awareness that the parts are there. The defenders and the exiles. I can see myself clearer and I know when this is over I will be changed for the better because of it. This self-induced suffering is changing us all in some way. I am awakening to Self and that is where the calm is found.
When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.
Let us practice together in these difficult days so we can be that person.
“Our emotions drive us to recreate situations in which we will feel the feelings we need to face. We do not have to do anything except allow ourselves to feel them.”
My work history is full of losses. I look back and see how I’ve repeated a pattern of hanging on, controlling and attaching to outcomes.
It began with the loss of my favorite job. I had managed a video store for several years while going to college. After I graduated, I continued to work there despite the fact that I had started a new “day job”. Of course, I butted heads with the new manager. She wanted me to change how the store was organized. I felt like she was telling me I was doing it wrong. One night, the owner came in and fired me. Six years of work… and then it was over.
I lost two more jobs after that.
I taught for Head Start. Of course I butted heads with the director. She wanted me to “do less” and be satisfied with my low wage and minimal benefits. I loved the work and gave my full effort, like always…I felt like she was saying I was doing it wrong. So I went over her head, writing the governing board. They later suspended me and although I won a court battle, I never went back to the job. I just moved on without grieving the loss.
The last job I lost was my own business. I know… who gets fired from their own business?
I ran a non profit and of course, butted heads with my business partner. She wanted me to do things her way and we jockeyed for control. Again, I felt those feelings of being wrong…right up to and including the moment my board laid me off. I loved that job and poured my heart into it for 12 years then in one moment… it was over. No time to feel…just move on.
So last week, while helping my husband move his business into a new location, I bumped into those old feelings again. I became hugely triggered when his office manager and other staff members changed how I had arranged a wall of products. While some of my hurt feelings were understandable, my reaction was out of proportion to the situation at hand. I cried for two days.
The ugly cry kind of cry.
What I came to realize was the trigger showed me an area of unresolved grief. It felt familiar… to my past losses, none of which I ever grieved.
Thank God for my program of recovery.
Recovery doesn’t mean never being triggered. It means when I bump up against a trigger, I have a chance to see something unhealed in myself… and to heal it by allowing myself to feel the feelings.
That’s it, just make space for them. Naming them helps in taming them. Feeling them helps in healing them.
Oh, that’s grief. That’s sadness. There’s anger and disappointment in there. Breathe and allow. It’s hard to feel this way. I’m sorry this happened. It’s painful to hold the belief that I’m doing everything wrong…that I’m not good enough. You are just human. You deserve love. I’m here for you.
It’s okay. I’m okay.
Now, work the program. Go to meetings. Talk about it with recovery friends. Cry when the tears come. Feel the old grief coming out. Instead of stopping it, I’m allowing it. On the other side is acceptance. That is a wonderful place to be.
Have you ever had someone tell you to “be aware of your face”? Have you ever worried that showing your feelings would make someone else feel bad? Have you ever smiled in agreement while silently screaming inside? Have you ever listened to the song, “Put on a Happy Face” and wanted to pull your hair out?
Facial expression is one way we communicate our feelings to others. When someone says or does something that brings joy and you respond with a smile, they know you agree with their message or feel happiness. When someone says or does something that brings up feelings of anger and you respond with a scowl, they see that you don’t agree or dislike what is happening. Perhaps they will stop the behavior or at least observe your disagreement.
Some of us were taught to hide our feelings behind a mask which contradicts them. When I was a kid, I was told to smile and show a happy face even when it didn’t match how I was feeling on the inside. I did that to make other people feel more comfortable. I often pretended to agree with others so they would like me. Before recovery, I didn’t know that it was OK to feel feelings other than “happy” or “fine” and certainly not to show them if I did. Angry feelings weren’t allowed.
Now I’ve been in recovery for several years. I am learning that I can have a wide variety of feelings and that they are ALL okay. I have a right to feel my feelings. All my feelings are valid even the ones that make other people uncomfortable. Now, if someone does something I don’t like such as violating my boundaries and I feel mad about it, I know I don’t have to smile. I don’t even have to hold a “neutral” expression. I can restate my boundary and my face may show my displeasure. When they see my angry expression, they might become uncomfortable. It’s OK. I don’t have to attack the other person. I also don’t have to hide my feelings.
I’m not saying rolling your eyes at your boss is a good idea. I understand the importance of respectful communication. What I am saying is that it is not my responsibility to take care of the feelings of others. I can feel my feelings and let others take care of their feelings. If someone doesn’t like the expression on my face, they can tell me that. I get to choose how I respond to that information. I do not need to change or hide my expression behind a mask to make others comfortable.
When someone pushes past my boundaries, I can feel mad. When I feel mad, I may show it on my face. It’s OK.