Late last year, I found myself hanging out with two completely different girlfriends. One is super type-A, striving for a promotion at work while juggling a young child and a husband. The other is more driven by spiritual revelation, finding contentment with meditation, prayer candles, and raw organic food. I fall somewhere between the two.
"Oh no, don't cry!" I pleaded to the type-A friend who was buckling under the pressure of trying to have it all.
"No, cry!" the spiritual friend interjected. "Let it out. If you keep it in, you can't face that feeling."
I leaned back into the pillows, adjusted my view, and took in what I'd just heard.
I'd spent my entire life controlling my feelings. It was a skill developed as a kid. Crying over my mother suggesting a diet, proposing Phen-Fen, offering liposuction, was a sign of weakness. Instead I learned to lead with a tightened jaw and rationalization. Instead I excused the hurt by arguing good intentions with terrible delivery. And then, while by myself, I satisfied my angst with Double Stuffed Oreos hidden in my desk drawer.
"I hope you end up with someone who really appreciates you. You totally deserve that," E said to me a few months ago via Gchat.
I looked at the screen, read the words, and didn't know how to respond. Because my instinct was to return the gesture. The polite response was to compliment him back. And the problem wasn't that I wished him something wretched like a horrible future. I save that sentiment for the asshats who leave their carts diagonal in the aisles of Wholefoods. But I was still too raw and hurt, angry and disappointed. For once I didn't have it in me to push down my own feelings so as to protect someone else's.
"I get the sense you think I'm a monster," E said a few days later. "There were lots of good times too, you know."
"I don't wish you ill will," I began, trying to get my footing with the expression of emotions. "But, yes, right now I hate you."
Sure, spending a long weekend in Philly with E, introducing him to Dinic's famous sandwich - roasted pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe - was ridiculously fun. Standing before works of art at the Barnes Foundation, traipsing back through for a second round after pointing out which pieces we each loved the most, is a really lovely memory. That was already established. Now I was addressing the ways he had hidden our relationship, failing to admit he was spending time with me. Now I was reacting to the times he walked out on me, leaving me alone on a Saturday night. I needed to sit with the way that made me feel. I needed to let that hurt and anger bubble up.
I'm sure E didn't like hearing what I had to say. I know, without question, he couldn't grasp why it was taking me so long to move off that emotion. That didn't matter. Confidently I held onto my need to work through these feelings. For once I was going to be selfish with my emotions. I was going to embrace the fact I had them, experience the way they felt, and allow myself to learn and grow from it all.
My old therapist once noted that people don't stay in the same place forever. Eventually you move forward or backward; you don't remain still. In the last few weeks, I've come to peace with a lot of things. There are some ridiculous situations at work. Realizing they are beyond my control, I've made a good faith effort to release myself of the anger, frustration and disappointment that these debacles rightfully warrant. And I've also come to peace with E. I have come out the other side both wiser and happier. I have reached a point where I've replaced that sense of anger with a sense of calm. Better yet, I hadn't even realized I had gotten here. So distracted by my attempt at growth, my desire to learn from my past (and leave it there), I was already living in my future.