I am sitting in my car in rush hour traffic when I feel it happen. I am listening to music and a song that always touches my heart comes on over the speakers, and I just feel tears start rolling down my cheeks. I am thankful that I’m in traffic and not really moving because the tears come faster and overtake my vision. The tears are a release of sadness, anger, hope, and disappointment; they are also releasing of energy that was never mine to begin with, energy that I picked up throughout the day. I let the tears roll down my face, leaving glistening wet stripes covering my cheeks and a puddle of collected tears on my shirt. I don’t try to brush them away. All of a sudden a feeling of frustration with myself overcomes me because although I am experiencing all these emotions, I am also feeling very grateful for my life. I have had some amazing sessions this week, had some heartfelt moments, great sex, and a list of about a million other little blessings that transpired over the week.
My ego jumps in and tells me that I am ungrateful because I am upset in the moment and am mentally venting sadness and frustration. I find myself in a dance of gratitude and pain, and I’m struggling to integrate the two seemingly opposing emotions.
Thankfully, I soon get to where I am going and check my Facebook page and low and behold, my friend and colleague, Kendal Williams reposted an article she had written “Are You Okay” with a recent post from sex educator Pamela Madsen:
“This is what I know for sure. It is not useful to hide pain, trauma, heartbreak, grief. It’s not useful to pretend that something terrible hasn’t happened. Acknowledging that something bad has happened to you is healing. How I handle a stressful event may be different than you. What is small to you or not traumatic for you could be traumatic for me. We all handle difficult and stressful events differently. It’s so important for us to create the space for us to feel. Fuck the “How are you” inquiry if you are just going to walk by. Inquire in a real way. It’s so healing for people to be listened too, and tell “their experience” of the heartbreak, the trauma, the terrible thing. This is how people let go of trauma. We have become a society of people that don’t really want to acknowledge pain, or that they need help or acknowledge stress. Instead we “medicate”. We “Numb”. Pick your numbing poison. We don’t teach staying with discomfort. We have kids who don’t want relationships because they don’t want to catch “the feels”. How we behave towards each other around stressful events creates the environmental that sets our biology and whether we go into stress reactions or resilience. It’s amazing how when you allow yourself to FEEL deeply into your body; and speak the pain (whatever it is) you will be able to let go of trauma and drama. When we are supported to do this — do your own grief work and move through that fabulous pile of crap — its amazing what can open up. #DoNotBuryTrauma “
Please check out the work of both these fabulous women, as they are more than a little insightful in many areas. But what I took away from these posts in that moment (because both posts have several lessons) is that pain cannot be hidden. If we try to hide our pain and push it aside then we are doing deep harm to ourselves mentally and physically. Also, it has been demonstrated that when we push aside the pain of others, the same concept remains true.
So how does Gratitude fit into all of this? Can we be both angry/upset/sad and still remain grateful? Many would disagree with me, but YES, I believe we can. At the end of the day, I am human, and although I have gained the ability to keep my Ego more in check and to be more of an observer, the fact is that I still have feelings, and that is okay. Just because something creates an emotional response or I need a few minutes to let my Ego run wild and release that energy does not take away my gratitude for the situation or my life.
I’ll give you an example. When I was driving, one of the things I was upset over was something a lover had said to me the previous day that poked into some very tender emotional spots. I was angry that my lover aggravated these seemingly tender spots but I was also upset that this person wanted to poke uninvited into this area of emotional struggle. So I was angry, but really I was sad, hurt, and very much confused. However, at the same time I was grateful because I knew that this was an opportunity for growth. A chance for me to practice boundaries, to work on figuring out why that tender spot is tender, and to grow. All of this was true simultaneously.
It is easy to dumb ourselves down as humans and try to focus only on the positive. But in truth, we rob ourselves of a deep and meaningful experience if we also do not let in the dark. Dr. Brene Brown, a shame researcher and author of several wonderful books including “Daring Greatly,” presents the idea that “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” In her books, she also goes on to explain that when we numb any part of ourselves, including our darkness, we also end up cutting off other parts of ourselves such as our joy, happiness, and light.
I am a huge proponent of gratitude practices, and I believe EVERY person on this earth has things to be grateful for in their lives, even if the only thing is that they are alive…. but in all truth, most people have a list that could wrap around the earth. I am constantly asking my clients to engage in gratitude practices, because when we are able to acknowledge the joy and blessings in our lives, we are able to manifest more of that in our world. However, this should not and does not negate the pain and struggles that face people every day. If anything, I have realized lately that truly some of the most beautiful people have to go through some very intense pain to keep moving forward and growing as humans.
I have a poster on one of the walls in my house that is simply for daily gratitudes. If I went up and really took some time reading that poster, many of my gratitudes have looked something like “I am grateful for this struggle because it is making me grow,” “I am grateful for that lesson because I won’t make the same mistake,” etc. Many of our worst moments lead to our greatest growth and eventually to our best moments.
All this to say that it is important to embrace your pain as a human being. We all have pain and struggle – that is a human experience. Don’t hide it and don’t pretend its not there, because it’s real and it’s authentic. Though of course, it’s also important to remember to focus in on all the amazing things that are present in our lives each and every day.