Contributor: Mollie Player
Just before he turned five, my son Xavier wrote a story. And it was the saddest thing ever. As he finished it and I was scribbling it down, all I could think was, “Oh, my goodness. What is this kid picking up from me?” Here is that story:
“The first thing that happens is there’s alive vacuums and they bang and crush until they’re dead in heaven and then they knew to be not alive vacuums that are really alive vacuums. The end. (They just pretend that they’re not alive by closing their eyes and popping their arms in them.)”
“Oh, and put the title on it,” he reminded me.
“Okay. What’s the title?”
“Alive Vacuums Hurt.”***
Okay, I thought. Calling the therapist now.
Honestly, I have no idea if Xavier was expressing something from deep within or if his story was so disturbing because he thinks pain and violence is exciting. (He’s been a fireman for three Halloweens in a row now.) Another possibility: it was God talking through him to me, telling me to let myself feel.
Here’s the thing: All my life, I have been the most terrible at feelings. Like, hardly any skills at all. I couldn’t purposely cry to save my life; when the tears do finally come I prolong he experience as long as humanly possible; it feels that good. I think that one of my roadblocks to overcoming my depression may be this whole suppression thing that once was taught to me, but that has by now become automatic.
And I admit that it’s not just habit that’s the problem. Feeling my feelings is just scary. I always have the fear that I’ll slip back into acute depression, and do more harm than good.
Which is probably why I loved the book Love Warrior: A Memoir by Glennon Doyle so much: it gave me an outlet for emotion. It’s about blogger Doyle’s marital difficulties as well as how she overcame addiction. But Doyle doesn’t just tell her story. She emotes it. She gives us the raw, even gory, details, scene by painful scene, till your own personal sadness surfaces to keep hers company.
I felt a lot of things while reading Doyle’s book. But mostly I felt inspired to feel more.
I haven’t gotten as far with this therapeutic technique as I’d’ve liked to by now, six months or so after having read her book. But, as I’ve written before on this blog, I’m trying out some stuff–cognitive behavioral therapy and my negativity brain dumps–and so far my results have been encouraging. The feelings really are pretty bad, when I focus on them. But they pass away fairly quickly. One of my goals for this year is to just feel more.
I don’t want to e an alive vacuum pretending to be a dead vacuum anymore.
Here are a few passages I especially liked.
- My mom’s voice quivers as she and my dad ask the usual questions: Why do you keep doing this to us? Why do you keep lying? Do you even love us? I sit on the couch and I try to receive their questions, but I’m a catcher without a mitt. My face is neutral, but the part of my heart that’s not spoiled is aching. I do love them. I love them and I love my sister and I love my friends. I think I love my people more than normal people love their people. My love is so overwhelming and terrifying and uncomfortable and complicated that I need to hide from it. Life and love simply ask too much of me. Everything hurts. I don’t know how people can just let it all hurt so much. I am just not up for all this hurting.
- I sit and stare at my hands and I remember a story I saw on the news about a woman who had a stroke and lost all her language overnight. When she woke up, her mind functioned perfectly, but she couldn’t speak. So she just lay there and tried to use her eyes to communicate her terror about being trapped inside herself. Her family couldn’t translate what her eyes were saying. They thought she was brain-dead. It’s like that for me, too. I’m in here. I am good on the inside. I have things to say. I need help getting out. I do love you. My secret is that I’m good in here. I am not heart-dead. This is a secret that no one knows but me.
- We begin to understand that to coparent is to one day look up and notice that you are on a roller coaster with another human being. You are in the same car, strapped down side by side and you can never, ever get off. There will never be another moment in your lives when your hearts don’t rise and fall together, when your minds don’t race and panic together, when your stomachs don’t churn in tandem, when you stop seeing huge hills emerge in the distance and simultaneously grab the side of the car and hold on tight. No one except for the one strapped down beside you will ever understand the particular thrills and terrors of your ride.
- As we walk out into the sun, Craig says, “Is it going to be okay? He’s going to be okay, right?” I look at him and understand that when your coaster partner gets scared you must quickly hide your own fear. You can’t panic at the same time. You must take turns. I grab Craig’s arm, hold tight, and say, “Yes. Absolutely. It’s all going to be okay. He is going to be amazing. This is just part of our ride.”
- I tell them that I’m finally proud of who I am. I understand now that I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, “For the same reason I laugh so often—because I’m paying attention.” I tell them that we can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved. We must decide. If we choose to be perfect and admired, we must send our representatives out to live our lives. If we choose to be real and loved, we must send out our true, tender selves.
- I’d been angry and ashamed because my marriage was so far from perfect. But perfect just means: works exactly the way it is designed to work. If marriage is an institution designed to nurture the growth of two people—then, in our own broken way, our marriage is perfect.