My wife Kristin and infant daughter Aida spent the second half of September in Ukraine. They left home the morning of the 14th and returned the afternoon of October 1. I missed them terribly while they were gone.
I spent much of the time before they left avoiding any real thinking or feeling about it. It was just this thing that was going to happen one day. I knew they were going. I knew what day they were leaving. I had all the details of their trip. Yet, I didn’t allow myself to fully embrace what was coming. In what I think of as sort of aÂ protective mechanism, I just put it out there in the future and kept it there.
It started to become more real in the days just before they left. Kristin was busy organizing and packing all the things she would need for a long trip abroad with an infant. Kristin gave a folder to me that contained each day’s schedule for Aida’s sister, Alma, who would stay home with me. It also contained all their travel information and a long list of contact information I might require while they were gone. It was starting to become more real.
It didn’t fully hit me, however, until I dropped Kristin and Aida off at the airport, dropped Alma off at school, and was finally alone. Suddenly it was all too real. My emotions were no longer tied to a future event and thereby held at arm’s length. They were now and they were powerful.
I could barely function. I felt disjointed and unfocused. Whenever I was without a specific activity to focus on, I felt aimless and didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt sad and lonely. My heart ached. I had an incredible suffocating pressure on my chest. My belly was nauseated and unsettled. It was very uncomfortable, but I allowed myself to feel and be present with the emotions that were expressing.
This went on and on with ebbs and flows and ups and downs until one day while I was at work, everything changed. It happened on Saturday the 25th of September, 11 days after they left. Suddenly I knew: “Kristin and Aida are in Ukraine and it’s really good they’ve gone!”
I immediately felt different. No more chest pressure. No more heartache. My belly relaxed. I relaxed. I still missed them. I still wanted them to be home. But those feelings were smaller, more normal, less overwhelming. Their being away gave me an opportunity to embrace my too large emotional response to their absence and let it express. The result was peace on a new and deeper level.
I felt different about Kristin. I no longer needed her in the same way. I missed her. I wanted her to come home, but I didn’t need her to come home. I loved her and wanted her presence, but I didn’t need her presence. Life would be quite different and more challenging if she was gone, yet I would be okay. I could cope. I could function. I could even be happy. How wonderful!
It would have been easy and certainly more comfortable, to allow my intellect to over-ride my emotions while Kristin and Aida were gone. I could have swept it all under the rug and tried to deny its presence. I knew intellectually that what I was experiencing was not an expression of healthy interdependence but an expression of unhealthy neediness. I could have allowed my intellectual understanding to over-ride my emotional wisdom and push my feelings away. In doing so I may have felt better, yet my feelings of unhealthy neediness would not have resolved. They still would have existed inside of me. They would still seek expression. They would be alive and well and would come back to haunt me. They would also gradually affect my body’s physical health.
Emotions are. They exist to be expressed. With expression we gain wisdom, understanding and peace. With resistance and denial, we stay stuck and become less than what we otherwise would be. The only path to peace is through full expression of whatever feelings we have inside us. Denial leads to rigidity. Denial leads to ill-health. Denial leads to loss of self and death of spirit.
Over time, when we have denied our emotions, we forget what they were about. Eventually, we forget about the emotions altogether — and yet, they live on. Often we are left with physical pain or bodily dysfunction. We may have an ache in our back that won’t go away or a burning pain in the pit of our stomach that we try to manage with “the purple pill.” What we have forgotten is the true origins of our pain. This is why I work with so many “emotional issues” with people. We live in a world dominated by intellect. We live in a world with little time for “being emotional.” Resistance and denial are reinforced at every turn.
I am reminded of a woman I am honored to see in my practice. Her son had recently committed suicide. She felt the pain and anguish that only someone who has lost a child to suicide can understand. Not long after the suicide, she was fired from her job because “she just didn’t seem happy there.” It’s quite likely she wasn’t feeling happy anywhere! But we are expected to buck-up. We are expected to put on a happy face. We are expected to pretend all is well.
There is a time and place for the healthy, productive expression of our emotions. We are ill-advised to allow our emotions to rule the world. However, right now, we give far too little time to something that is a healthy part of us. It’s time for balance.
The next time you have an ache, pain or some other symptom, take a moment to ask it if it has something to say to you. Be willing to explore the possibility that your pain has its origins in the emotional realm. Maybe your body is trying to get your attention about something deeper. Allow space for your emotions to speak; true healing will then take place.
Tips for daily life:
- Allow all your emotional responses to life full expression.
- When you experience physical body symptoms, take time to ask if there are emotions associated with what you are experiencing.
- Suppressing your emotions will eventually make you sick.
- Ask your pain if it has an emotional message for you.