I’m sharing my weakness

Coat opening time. Please pray for me that I don’t delete this later.

I can do a lot of things. I am strong, smart, creative, talented, and compassionate. So this is not a woe is me post. It’s just me sharing my weakness, a weakness that exists in and amongst my strengths.

One of the things I struggle with most is emotional weakness. My definition of emotional weakness: the inability to recover in a normal time period after exposure to an emotional stressor, and/or an abnormal or inadequate reaction to the stressor, i.e, a heightened sensitivity to emotional stress.

added later: I think this also could be *shame*

I decided that maybe I could use some techniques to work on strengthening my ability to deal with emotional events and trauma that are similar to the ones I have used in learning how to handle physical pain, because my emotional weakness is painful to me.

This is slow going. Trying to see my emotional vulnerability in the same way I see physical pain is really hard. I seem to have an extreme aversion to the feelings that go along with things that cause me emotional stress and therefore I resist. The idea that I need to just relax and let the feelings wash over me like a wave – well, that’s easier said than done.

There’s another layer to this: my fear of the fear of the pain. So not only am I taken down when something unexpected comes along, I also have a negative response to the *idea* that a certain situation or person or event could possibly cause me emotional stress or pain. I think this is even worse, because I am creating a false reality and trying to hide from that.

It’s this kind of anxiety that, when it flares up, can keep me at home, hiding, not making calls and not answering the phone or the door. I can get really snuggled down in my own little cocoon and disappear from life.

Or if I have a commitment, I will start to stress about it sometimes days in advance. This could be anything, even a visit from or to family. I’m anticipating the feelings I could have in that situation and getting anxious about that possibility. It’s a miserable feeling that gives me stomach aches, unease, and depression.

All in anticipation of something that may not even occur.

Just thinking about all of this gets me holding my breath.

It’s a hot mess.

And it happens a lot. Just ask my poor husband.

Here I am at 56, struggling with something like this that really holds me back.

I have quit so many things.

Friendships. Communities. Clubs. Educational endeavors. Anything that puts me face to face with people, or even makes me encounter the idea of being face to face with people. Because people have gotten in my face and hurt me. I know this is just what happens as part of being human but it seems so much larger to my heart.

I have deleted so many vulnerable, honest blog posts because I felt so exposed and I was sure that people were judging me. And I cared about that; I didn’t want to be judged in a way that I felt was inaccurate. Or even in a way that felt accurate to me. All of this has been speculative, mind you.

And when I have experienced the pain of actual rejection, which feels, I think, so much more painful to me than to “normal” people, those events have reinforced my expectation of future rejection and I don’t ever want to feel that again, ever, and so I go into hiding all over again. I am not resilient. I do not bounce back quickly or become stronger after hurts like these.

If I were to relate this to physical pain, it would be like stubbing my toe and having to spend days with my foot up to recover, then being afraid to walk for fear that I might stub it again.


So my task is to breathe, to go on what I know, to put myself “out there” because I refuse to create a speculative reality. And when I get hurt, when I stub my emotional toe, to breathe through it, relax my entire body, and just move through the pain.

Because my dis-ease is not only hurting me, it is hurting other people that I care about.

Opening myself to pain

I learned how to do deep relaxation when I was preparing for the birth of my youngest child. I’d had a homebirth a couple of years earlier that went well, but I screamed my way through it because as everyone on the planet knows at least circumstantially, childbirth is painful. I’ve heard it said many time there is no other experience more painful than the process of one’s body opening up to allow a tiny human egress. This could be correct.

Have you ever sat at the top of the highest peak of a dive roller coaster, waiting to free fall 200 feet? It can be difficult not to tense up. In fact, riding a roller coaster can be a very unpleasant (albeit short) experience, one that can at best be suffered through – eyes closed, fingers clenched around the bar, praying for it to end quickly with your life spared.

Well, that’s kind of how I approached my first homebirth in the summer of 1998.

Not the best plan for a peaceful, cozy, joyful experience. Oh it was still a momentous thing giving birth in my home with my husband there, and it was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment to have done it. But my method of dealing with the pain of contractions – to vocalize so loudly and deeply, was a bit traumatic for my husband and probably for my neighbors too.

So for my next pregnancy, I knew there had to be a better way. I started studying deep relaxation and the idea of moving through pain instead of trying to avoid it, get past it, and tense myself against it. In deep relaxation, you stop trying to avoid the pain and you embrace it by allowing all tension to leave your body. One way of describing the process is to imagine standing in knee’s depth at the ocean, facing the waves as they come at you. You allow each wave to pass through you, knowing there is a build up, a peak, and a regress. In childbirth it is much the same. A contraction, which is the vehicle of pain in a woman’s labor, is a wave with the same kind of build up, peak, and regression.

Instead of resisting the pain, I trained myself to go limp with relaxation, imagining myself simply walking through the wave without fear, letting tension drip out of my body through my fingertips. I imagined myself simply letting the baby out, and envisioned the inside of my body softening, relaxing, and opening.

Sound wonky? Maybe – but it worked. My labor with my youngest lasted only about 2.5 hours and it was peaceful – even with a 10 pound baby. You know, it didn’t even really hurt that much. I am still in awe of what a difference relaxation made on my fifth and final journey of childbirth.

Since that early morning on September 9th, 2000, I have incorporated this deep relaxation and the concept of “letting the baby out” into the rest of my life. I’m pretty good at noticing which parts of my body are holding tension and simply letting go. When I let go of tension, I let go of pain. I can envision the inner parts and communicate with my body that it is ok to relax.

For example, when I am stressed or anxious, it tends to show up in my body as a stomach ache. I have learned to close my eyes, go inside myself, and envision my stomach just relaxing. I let every part of my inner body get soft and open up. I walk into the wave of the pain instead of running from it or wishing it away. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Oh, and the roller coast thing? It’s exactly the same. When you sit at the top of the hill, hanging there, waiting to drop, trying completely relaxing your body. Just go limp. Just walk into it. Let your arms and legs dangle in front of you as you let your body sink into the restraint bars. Before you know it, you become the bird in flight, swooping, diving, and looping your way to the end of the ride. And it is over much too soon.

My next challenge is to take this technique and apply it to my mind. I may be super tough when it comes to physical pain, but emotional pain is a completely different story for me. I may or may not fall to pieces when confronted with this kind of experience. So it is time, finally, to learn how to walk through and embrace emotional traumas – to “let the baby out” in this area of my life too. I’ll keep you posted.

My War of Art

Yeah, it’s been a long time since I posted anything. I read my “non-negotiables” here and laughed aloud. I’ve allowed life to knock me down too many times. I’ll tell you something, I’m tough when it comes to physical pain. Through the process of natural childbirth I learned how to pinpoint any area in my body that feels painful and just wash the pain away with deep breathing and relaxation. But when it comes to emotional pain, I am way too fragile. I kneejerk my way through any kind of situation that triggers my old wounds in this area.

And that means I have been neglecting my work, which in this case is my writing work. The work is for me, not anyone else, which of course means I don’t get any financial reward. But I do get to be sane for another day, and that’s a big thing. My emotional pain has been talking me out of writing for a while now, so it has become this cyclical thing – the less I write the worse I begin to feel and the worse I feel the more I allow this emotional pain to keep me from delving into the difficulties of being vulnerable on the page. Or if I do write, I then hide it from the world because either I think it sucks or it is wonderful but too raw, too honest, too personal.

But I am re-reading The War of Art and taking Steven Pressfield’s words to heart. I have to stop allowing Resistance to win this war. I have to sit down and do the work of writing even when it feels so painful to even try, when it seems like doing the laundry is ever so urgent, or taking a nap, or checking Facebook. I have to do it even though the words are halting, awkward, and just plain shitty. I have to be willing to sit down and write crap, every day, until the muse shows up to reward me for my diligence.

I’ve proven to myself before that this happens (after the first time I read The War of Art) – the angels come and give me my prize when I make it my first priority to write each day. Eventually the stars align and I look back on what I’ve written and I think it’s pretty good stuff. I feel so much more purposeful, settled, aligned, and content when I am writing every day. It is my Work. Whether it is crap or pretty good, whether anyone ever sees it or not, it’s something I have to do for myself.