Breathe In, Scream Out
I remember the excitement when I started attending the youth group in church as a teenager. I made friends, dated boys, and watched my teen social life flourish in a way it never had. It was small – maybe 50-60 teens – and this meant everyone knew everybody. We would hang out in the church basement after youth group, finds ways to create mischief at church camp, and basically fumbled our way through teen-hood together with our eyes wide shut. We believed these friends would always be our friends, that we’d marry the boy or girl next door, and live happily ever after just doing what the church told us to in order to reach the magical realm of Heaven.
During one summer I left town for a couple weeks on a family vacation and when I returned my friends wouldn’t talk to me. They froze me out, ignored me, treated me like I was nothing. It was so painful. I remember approaching my best friend, ‘Jackie’, at the time and asking her if I had done something to upset her. She just looked at me, laughed, and walked away. Her new posse of girls, that had also been my friends before, following along behind her.
I was confused. I was hurt. And the first place I went was inside myself.
What had I done wrong? Why don’t these girls like me anymore? What is wrong with ME? The feelings of worthlessness, confusion, sadness all whirling around in my mind, my heart, my body.
That experience devastated me. I’m not sure I ever really dealt with the feelings that erupted at the time. Actually, I know I didn’t because the scenario kept repeating itself. Through adulthood, in the workplace, in social settings, over and over and my response was the same – blaming myself, trying to change myself, living with the thought on repeat that I am not good enough, that I am not enough.
Over 35 years have passed since that day in church when those girls walked away from me. And recently, just this past month, it happened again. The scenario was different, as it always is of course, but the feelings were exactly the same. The pain, the tears, the confusion, the wondering WHAT HAD I DONE to be treated like I was less than.
It's tough when there are no answers. No one who will look you in the eye and tell you what is wrong with YOU. But something was different this time around. After spending over the past year and a half doing emotional healing work, I noticed the difference. This time I knew that it wasn’t about me. It had never been about me. When someone hurts you, it’s about them! It always has been and always will be.
“Those events and people in our lives who trigger our unresolved issues could be regarded as good news. We don’t have to go hunting for anything. We don’t need to try to create situations in which we reach our limit. They occur all by themselves, with clockwork regularity.”
– Pema Chodron
Think about it this way, when someone tells you something nice about yourself or expresses a kindness to you, what do you think? That THEY are a kind, good, thoughtful person! You think about them, don’t you? Do you ever think, yes, I deserve to be treated kindly? Do you ever say to yourself, it’s because I am a nice person that they were nice to me? No! Guess what – this flows both ways, no matter if what a person does or says to you is kind or painful – it’s about what they believe about their own selves. You just happen to be on the receiving end of their desire to express kindness or their need to release their own pain.
We all release our pain in some way. We can’t survive without releasing pain.
Some people do so by hurting other people, they express pain through anger, abuse, and passive-aggressiveness. They don’t know who they are as a human. And once you understand this, compassion begins to seep into your heart. I know this because it also happened to me.
This time around when I was hurt by others, my initial response was pain. But with the knowledge and understanding I have gained over these past months, I knew I could get through it and get through it is exactly what I am doing now. It takes work, it takes dedication, it takes practice. But I can already feel the pain subsiding so much quicker than it ever has in the past. My hurt is being replaced with compassion for the pain those others must feel.
So what do we do about these painful feelings? One option is to keep burying them, cover them up, and wait for “time” to erode them away. You have that choice. It looks like the easy choice. Forget, ignore, pretend. But no matter what the popular songs will tell you – time does not heal.
You have another choice. Face it head on, look it in the eye, swallow it whole, and feel the pain. Let it move through you, explore how your body responds, allow the emotions to come forth, and then get it out! Move, breathe, cry, SCREAM if that’s what you need to do – express yourself in whatever way feels right and let that shit go. Sound scary? Hell yeah. Sound tough? It’s that too. But does it sound any scarier or tougher than what you’re doing now? Blaming yourself, living with anxiety, constant worry, feeling ‘less than’, waiting for that next shoe to drop that will cause you to fall apart?
This is the human experience. Every human’s experience. I did the work, have been doing the work, and am still doing the work of moving pain through me and out into the ether. And with every release of pain, my heart fills up with peace, with gratitude, with compassion, with love. And BONUS: There’s an amazing unexpected consequence of this work too – you realize that you are not alone, you find others like you who are on the same healing journey, you support each other, and you find true friendship with others, and even more importantly, you find self-love along the way.
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Since leaving the church over 20 years ago, Dawn Adams has been on a pilgrimage to discover her personal spiritual truth. As a former church member, graduate of a Christian high school, and holder of both a Biology & a Bible degree, from the now defunct Tennessee Temple University, Dawn explores the unearthing of spirituality outside the traditional church building. She invites you to explore with her. / Follow Dawn and her travels on Instagram.