The House That I Built

I feel emotional today. Like, tears-brimming-in-my-eyes-all-of-the-time kind of emotional.

I’m not typically one to engage these kinds of big feelings days.

I do not like them.

But when my body joins the parade and adds increased physical pain to the mix (as it is currently doing), it becomes so much more difficult to steer clear of all the feelings.

Emotion can feel like a distraction to me from all the things that I need to get done. Honestly, I’ll clean all the toilets if it means I can avoid legit crying. True story.

But now my body won’t let me clean the toilets. #eyeroll

Engaging emotion can also feel like standing on the edge of a bottomless chasm – feeling like if I step off, I’ll never find my footing again.

It’s kind of terrifying for me.

I have spent a lifetime perfecting my unhealthy habits in an effort to mute the voices of my feelings.

I have skills, ya’ll.

My skills are so good that I often find myself living in a house of my own making – a house with closed and blinded windows and very little circulating air. Even though living in this house is isolating and suffocating, it feels necessary in order to keep me safe.

I mean, of course it’s not actually safe. But there’s a part of me that feels so much more comfortable living in this house. This part would much rather be alone, starved for affection and nourishment, than be exposed to whatever scary-feelings monsters might be lurking outside.

Imagine a horde of zombies creeping around outside, peering into your house – looking for weak spots and vulnerabilities that would allow them entrance.

That’s what it often feels like.

#feelingszombieapocalypse

But I’m learning that those aren’t really zombies outside. And if I just open the blinds of a window and peek outside, I can see that, really, it’s just the rejected, burdened, and lonely parts of me – desperate to be known.

Ya’ll, perspective is everything.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, my therapist has been gently coaxing (and sometimes firmly pushing) me to leave my metaphorical house. She’s teaching me to wear sunglasses if the light is too bright, bundle up if it’s cold, let myself breathe in the fresh air, and even let whatever rain comes fall on me without fear of getting soaked to the skin.

Because I can always change clothes and dry off later.

And instead of weaponizing myself against those feelings that frighten me so, I’m learning to take a deep, courage-building breath, giving them a shy “hello” and a chance to tell me a bit about themselves… and what it is they need from me.

Really, this metaphor is about being a good neighbor to the outlier parts of myself that have been exiled and left exposed to all the elements outside the safety of my inner house.

Practically speaking, it’s about learning to first notice what’s going on in my body, then to notice the feelings beneath the surface of my body, then to honor those feelings by letting myself sit with them and feel them until they fade away.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

It’s harder than it sounds.

This week my desire to withdraw into the safety of the four walls of my house has returned.

My body hurts. I’m edgy. I need the sun to shine again.

And I miss my mom.

It’s been two years this week since cancer claimed her life – a loss that left me huddling in the darkest corners of the most inner rooms of my inner house. It’s been a very slow warming to a sense of safe-enough that has helped me muster the courage to inch my way out of the darkness in this house I built. To pull back the blinds and let the light in. To give my Self permission to first peek through the peephole before opening the door to the parts outside, so I know who or what I’m facing.

But I’m getting braver.

Practices like writing, meditation and silence, sticking with therapy even when it sucks, and finding ways to cultivate the new relationships I have with the parts of myself that carry such heavy burdens on my behalf. Compassion for them is growing. A desire to really know them, without fear or shame coming between us, is growing.

I know this may sound like I have multiple personalities. It certainly does to me. But my therapist, when talking me off that ledge of insanity, likes to say that we refer to parts of ourselves all the time. Everyone does. We’ll say, “A part of me wants to go, but another part really would prefer to stay home.”

See?

So if I have multiple personalities, then you do, too. #samesies

As the deep ache of losing my mom has resurged in the last couple of weeks, I have been focusing my efforts on pushing my “I can be brave” button as often as is necessary to listen to and to support the part of me that walked my mother through her last month here on this earth. That part of me is profoundly lonely. She holds memories that are hard for me to revisit – keeping them safe until I’m ready. The loneliness she feels is part of a bigger sense that she has become untethered to the world now that both of her parents are gone. As I sit with her and listen to her, instead of becoming burdened by her pain, I find that my Self is able to tell her that she is still very much tethered to this world. The relationships she has helped to create with her husband, daughter and three sons, a son-in-law and a beautiful, absolutely delightful grandson are what now hold her securely to this world.

And with that realization we share a moment of gratitude and hold each other until the fullness of grief abates.

Our Letting Go Balloon Ceremony on the day of Mom’s funeral – February 2018

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