When I quit drinking I immediately noticed that I felt more. It felt so hard, like I was a rope being jerked through too quickly, burning me. But I wanted it, I wanted that feeling of how difficult it was because it told me how much it mattered that I quit drowning myself. It wasn’t okay. It was hard and it sucked and I thought I was going to lose my mind at least thirty-seven times a day.
It started with my husband: me struggling made him want to comfort me. “You’re going to be okay” he’d say. Other people close to me said the same thing “It’s okay” and “feeling lost is okay” and “struggling is ok”.
It’s really not okay.
Feeling lost is feeling lost. Struggling is struggling. That we take these sorts of feelings and emotions and blunt them with the promise of “okay” seems like a cop out. I hand you an apple and you say “oh, apple is okay”…no. It’s an apple. Feeling lost is not okay, okay is okay. Feeling lost can be empty and confusing. I understand the urge to normalize it, but lately I also understand the reason behind it.
Normalizing the more difficult feelings and emotions can be for you, the normalizer. What could really help people who are feeling things like lost and struggle-y is not okay-ing them, it’s acknowledging the actual thing that’s happening. When we dismiss the depth of what they’re going through because of our own discomfort we miss the chance to share the experience of intimacy.
Which is exactly why we do it.
Seeing someone struggle is hard- biologically we understand that it makes them vulnerable, and our cells tell us that weakness can mean distraction and distraction can mean death. So we neaten it up, “you’re ok” is really “hey listen, I see you’re down there but there’s a predator coming and so hop up, dust yourself off, and finish doing that thing that’s making me uncomfortable later because I don’t want you to get eaten up in front of me.”
It’s also tough to see people suffer emotionally, we all know the fine line of despair.
What about how we learn from it?
I’m interested in how we can let people have the full experience of their emotions, while we sit back and allow the discomfort. In my coach training we were not allowed to reach out and comfort someone who was upset, we had to let them reach for us. How can we develop the awareness to know when we need to NOT reach for people but to allow ourselves to witness discomfort with caring curiosity…as the sufferer knowing the place where we need to ask for each other, to invite each other in, and as the empathic knowing how to let someone cycle through, and when to go in and scoop them up…