Saturday, June 4, 2016

Post Estrangement: Emotional changes in Healing

Our feelings are often used as a way to judge the events in our lives.  Naturally we all want to avoid the emotions that feel painful; sorrow, sadness, distress, anger.  At the same time we strive to feel more of the emotions that feel pleasurable; happiness, excitement, exuberance.  When we feel more of the first group we recognize that events in our life aren’t unfolding in the way we want whereas when we feel more of the later we feel confident that things are going well. 

When we grieve we spend almost all of our time with the painful emotions and we dream of those times when we had pleasant emotions and we start to wonder if we will ever feel them again. Negative emotions I find are overwhelming, they give me the sensations of sinking or drowning or being smothered.  They resonate with deep throbbing vibrations and I visualize them as deep valleys or chasms which I have to climb out of.  Maybe that is why healing feels like such hard work, it is the emotional equivalent of hard physical labour, climbing out of the depths of despair.

Even in the depths of those valleys I could recall what it used to feel like to be happy.  I remembered what it felt like to smile so hard that my cheeks hurt, to laugh until my sides ached, being so thrilled with a sense of accomplishment as to feel untouchable.  Those peaks don’t last long, they are fleeting examples of the peaks in my life.  They exemplify the euphoria of feeling on top of the world. 

One stage of healing is what I call the “flat line” of numbness.  When I got to that place where I didn’t feel much of anything, when I turned off, tuned out, and when nothing mattered anymore because nothing was worth caring about.  This is a despairing place to be, the whole body shuts down, nothing is interesting, nothing generates excitement, and it is living inside a mind and body that is just waiting to die.  I think this numb stage is essential when recovering from extreme sorrow.  The danger is that if nothing happens to shake us up we might never escape.

I was lucky; I was given a life event that shocked me out of that mindlessness.  It challenged me to find a way to begin wanting feelings again, of wanting to reconnect with joy and enthusiasm and accepting that living requires me to face also disappointments and challenges, change and loss.

What I found interesting though was that as I worked on various healing strategies to rediscover joy I found something even more valuable!  I discovered that I was starting to connect with what I have chosen to call “Neutral Feelings”.  The gentler ebb and flow of life; where in reality we spend most of our lives.  Most of our living actually takes place when we are neither in the ache of despair nor in euphoria joy.  But because these neutral feelings are not as strong therefore we tend to not connect with them as consciously.

I found that I started to be more cognizant of feelings like peace and contentment.    When there was neither the “flat line” of numbness, nor the peaks and valleys of extreme emotions, I started to discover these rather gentle undulations.  I became aware of greater and lesser levels of contentment, more intense and less intense feelings of peace, and different increments of happiness.

I am starting to love the gentle ebb and flow of these mid-range emotions. There is contentment, and acceptance, optimism and awareness of possibilities, and even resignation and tolerance of change.

I am starting to feel that with these gentler feelings as my conscious base line I can handle the unpleasantness of the painful feelings with greater inner strength and not despair when triggering memories erupt. 

From this more secure pathway I can take risks; striving to reconnect with those opportunities that hold for me the intensely joyful, the out of bounds exuberance and the risk of failure.

And most important of all, I am learning that connecting with the comfort of these very important and satisfying “neutral emotions” I can face the inevitable loss when the high intensity joyful moments pass too quickly.  I am starting to learn that I also have greater control over these mid-range emotions.  Simpler things trigger a moment of happiness, a moment of peace, a moment of contentment.  And finally, and maybe most importantly, sorrow is more quickly transformed into acceptance of change and toleration of loss.

Renate Dundys Marrello 
2016 - 06 - 04 

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