By Dr. Diane Lass
Seven years ago, my husband died instantly of a heart attack and I think I have spent a good amount of that time “surviving” my life. He was my best friend and lover. There are no manuals that tell us how to deal with our loses, whether they are death, loss of a relationship, divorce, domestic violence, loss of jobs, empty nest, illness, etc. – traumas are traumas. Even positive changes that we bring upon ourselves can be difficult as change itself can be difficult.
After Steve died, I remember waking up feeling sad and going to work, which was my saving grace. I would walk in, switch gears and see back to back clients all day. I was very good at separating myself out, after all, it was easier to deal with their emotions, their lives, then it was my own. After a long day, I would leave work and revisit the same emotions I had put aside when I went into work. Work was a way for me to avoid – over the years I got more and more creative as to ways to “avoid” my feelings and my pain. I learned very quickly after Steve died that I had a baseline that I was functioning at. I “survived” pretty well at a certain level, but I also noticed if I let my emotions dip to a certain point, there was no turning back, I would tank, I would be a puddle of gut wrenching tears. So, I stayed on top of my emotions. I knew my breaking point and when I felt myself getting near that point, I would do whatever I needed to do to bring myself back up to baseline. It was a “coping” skill I became very attached to, but looking back, it was another way to “avoid” my emotions, my trauma. Avoidance was my preferred defense. Defenses work, and are even necessary at times, but as time goes on they break down and that is what happened to me.
One day, as though it was out of the blue, but we all know it wasn’t – I decided it was time to face my life. As I said, I was “surviving” my life and I knew it. The one emotion that I had no idea how to deal with was sadness. Anger? Frustration? I can deal with those emotions. It is like you are doing something when you are angry or frustrated, but sad? What do you do with sad? I decided I had to face it, accept it and recognize that some days I am going to feel sad and some days I won’t. Sadness wasn’t a terminal illness I had to do everything I could to avoid. Problem is, when you numb your emotions to avoid their effects on you, you avoid and numb your whole being. So! I decided I was going to take myself on as a research project. I wanted to know who I was under all my life experiences and traumas. I visualized myself as a container of experiences, losses, shoulds, societies rules, roles and expectations, but under all that? I wondered what was there. I have a very inquisitive mind, always have, which I am sure has been a source of frustration to many over the years, but that was my first step, to own the fact that it was part of my personality and to learn to value that part of myself. I was so excited. I didn’t have any idea what I was going to find under all of this “stuff”
that I had been carrying around, but I was convinced it was going to be good, because it was mine, no one else’s.
A few days later, I went down to Sunset Cliffs to walk out on the Cliffs. Mind you, this was an outing and I live 3 blocks up the hill! I walked out and took a deep breath, smelled the ocean and felt the breeze on my skin. I looked out on the beautiful blue water and was simply amazed by how vast the ocean was. I thought, “my God, look at how much water is out there!” Then I looked over at Cliffs and all houses that were along the road. I looked at an old Spanish house on the corner. I thought, “that is a beautiful place.” It was the house I grew up in. It was as though it was the first time I had “seen” it in over 7 years. Crazy, right? My data collection for my research project had begun. Deep down under all my “stuff” was a wide eyed little girl that was screaming to get out as though it was time to “see” the world, not through painful lenses, but through my very own eyes. I am not sure I ever saw things that way as I have always been a rebellious people pleaser – try to make sense of that one. Even though I didn’t always follow rules, I always tried to do the right thing and suffered a lot of self-criticism for not doing so. Questioning or second guessing, not quite sure if I measured up, but! Guess what, who do I have to measure up to now? That little wide-eyed girl inside. It is important to stay in touch with her, nurture her, be willing to go on this journey with her and know that this is the most important and best research project I have ever been involved in. One thing I know for a fact is, 2 Thrive Network was buried down under the pain. It is not something I want to do, it is a passion, a calling. Thank you for coming along with me on my journey.
Who is under your pain, your life experiences, your shoulds? I encourage you to get excited about digging down deep and instead of being afraid of what you will find there, be fascinated by it. Embrace what you find, nurture and encourage it. Your research project will take a lot of strength and determination, which will take strong and clear boundaries. As you are collecting your data, there will be those who will want to squash your progress and minimize it. You may second guess yourself. Don’t. There is some fascinating stuff down there, let it come up and be proud. It’s time to start living, not avoiding. Life happens and it can be awful, but we deserve nothing but the best. Thank you for coming along on my journey, I am excited about yours! Remember – wide eyed! Every day I get more and more excited about our community of supportive women, which will inspire and embrace one another to turn their dreams into reality and live a life they love. Too much fun!
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