Nothing more than feelings…
“Feelings, nothing more than feelings…”
I have deleted about a hundred opening lines for this essay to date. That I started writing only a few minutes ago will give you some perspective on how freaking difficult I find this particular exercise.
Gah. Blank stare into the middle distance. Slight rise in heart rate (the physical heart, not the lumpy, squishy metaphorical, poetic version that gets all ooey-gooey, that skips a beat, that breaks, that sings, that does all those feeling things). No, the elevated heart rate and thin patina of cold sweat come from the slightly panicky sensation that washes over me when I think about feeling. My feelings, to be exact. Yours are all well and good – honest, forthright, uncomplicated.
Me? I have to remind myself that, although I can feel mostly disconnected and disjointed and off-kilter and sad and lost and broken and a few thousand other things, the miracle is that I can “feel” at all. I went for decades honestly believing that I didn’t. Or that my feelings went in a straight line between “fine” and “tired.” I spent a few eternities believing that my emotions were so powerful that if I allowed myself to actually feel them, they would, most likely, kill me. They were Leviathan, a maelstrom of churning energy, an endless and infinite whirlpool that would suck me down and swallow me whole. I invested in them all the power and capriciousness of an avenging God, waiting to strike out and smite me.
Talk about shut down! It took me years to admit that “tired” is not an emotion. Then it took me a few more years to figure out that I might actually have to learn how to feel something, anything. As numb as I was, that gaping hole inside – the one that tried to keep God out and trapped me in a tiny universe of one, the one that housed my self-loathing and self-doubt, the one that kept me enraptured with self-destruction and addicted to More, that blanketed me with isolation and whispered that I might as well drink, because alcohol at least smudged the lines of pain and left in its wake the slow burn of abject surrender – that hole was leaking my stiff control into the real world and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t even stay numb.
I had had glimpses of real joy, even amidst my pain. I had allowed myself a few moments to hope that it could be – would be – better and the gods did not come to crush me for my bit of presumption. And so began my quest – to learn how to feel, how to be present and sit comfortably in my own skin. I approached the task like I approach a still pond on a hot summer day – toe outstretched, skimming the surface and testing the waters. I splashed in the shallows for a while, water to my ankles, getting acclimated, getting wet, venturing out a bit farther in fits and starts, depending upon how brave I might be at any given moment.
And so I learned. In fits and starts, I learned. Mostly. I get happy and sad and mad and glad – the basics, so I’ve discovered. And I get wistful and silly and frustrated and bored and joyful and distracted and a thousand other things. Sometimes singly, sometimes in weird pastiches that cycle a hundred feelings in an instant and leave me breathless. I get to feel all that stuff, every day. I stuck my toe in that dark and murky pool, eyes screwed shut, until I could bear to leap. And I leaped. And I was not devoured. I lived to tell the tale.
So why is it, so many years later, that just when I think my head is above water, that my toes have found something solid upon which to stand, everything seems to have shifted, and that solid ground is nothing more than quicksand, sucking me under? When the hell did this happen?
I swear to God – I am a strong and capable woman. I am successful, frighteningly intelligent, witty as hell. Why do I suddenly feel as if I’m mired in a bog, unable to function? The worst part – I can see myself holding the compass, the road map, clearly marked with “Here be dragons.” I am holding the damned instruction manual in my hands, dammit. I know I have all the tools, right at my fingertips, and yet I seem so incapable of navigating my way through my life.
I know a lot of things, actually. I know that this, too, shall pass. I know that God is with me always. That my only job, really, is to love my son and help him find his own path. That there’s nothing so bad that a drink won’t make worse. I know that I have been whole but now feel broken. I know I have been caught, redeemed, loved and now feel lost. I know I still stutter and stumble and avoid the phrases “I don’t know” and “I need help.”
I know that the longest journey I’ve ever had to make is the one from my head to my heart. It seems like an endless journey through a trackless, cold and lonely desert.
I’ve been here before. In a thousand different iterations, I have stood in this spot, lost and lonely and afraid. And I am tired of this introspection. Tired of this interminable quest to figure out what the hell is going on in my life, how I can feel happy in my life, where is God in my life, on and on, ad nauseum. At some point, it becomes self-indulgent and I come off as a pampered primadonna (feel free to protest this point, eloquently (yet vehemently), that nothing could be further from the truth). I am so tired of feeling like a tightly wound spring. I don’t know how to change this, so I avoid it and go numb. I disconnect – one more piece of pain that I have to confront and I just can’t do it. Not today. I can only pretend to be brave for so long.
I hate having to admit this. I am too old to dance with these ghosts again, too old for this bout of existential angst and self doubt. I want to do it differently, to fix it, and it feels as if I have slammed into a mountain of glass. I can’t find a handhold, my feet slip and slide out from under me, leaving me prostrate and bruised.
But here’s the difference – all impotence aside, all quivery, fearful drowning-while-immobile, breathless and clueless and broken, I know one more thing: in the face of everything, act.
And so I do. In fits and starts, sometimes with feet dragging, I act – I move. And then, I dive. Dive inward, to find God and grace. Leap upward, light the torch, search for a hand to hold in the darkness. I ask for help to find a soft spot upon which to land. How much more miraculous, more holy can it get? How astounding, that in the space between breaths, I find peace and the world changes. This is all holy space. It is measured in the space between you and me. It’s all there, the sacred, the holy, surrounding us, connecting us, keeping us whole. Keeping me whole. If I can just commit, just trust, just forgive, just love, then I would know I was in the presence of God.
Life is not what I expected. Life is. That’s the deal. It’s bumpy and messy and scary and happy and joyous and annoying and surprising, in infinite variety and subtlety. And most of all – changing. I get to participate in that. I get to do it well, fuck it up, find moments of grace. In the midst of pain or doubt or joy, or hope, it is not so dark – I am not so alone, as long as I put one foot in front of the other. I get to find God, every day. I can be made whole, every day. I can be healed, every day. None of this comes naturally. It is still easier, at times, to disconnect than to willingly open up my heart. But, I have known God’s grace and I have felt joy and love, and so I struggle gladly to be human, every day.
God is here, in this place with me, and I –
Today, I know it.