For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a risk-taker.
For that reason, people assume I’m brave. In many ways, I suppose it’s true. I’ve traveled alone to new places. I’ve parasailed, zip-lined, and rock-climbed, and for me, turbulence is what makes flying fun. I adore the rush of being high above the ground, and I dream of traveling the world in a hot air balloon. I’ve held snakes and alligators, and I rescue any helpless spider that I can. I’ve spoken on stage in front of a thousand people and loved every second of it. I’ve tried new things, I’ve failed, and I’ve tried again.
The only fears I usually (begrudgingly) admit are my fear of sharks and my fear of worms. Nevertheless, I’ve swam with sharks, so clearly it’s not debilitating. (But worms? They are, and will continue to be, the absolute worst.)
I have a deeper, darker secret, though. I am most definitely a coward when it comes to one thing in particular: I’m afraid of my feelings.
When sadness wells up inside, I fear drowning in tears that may never end.
When anger threatens to take hold, I fear the aggression that lurks beneath, which could hurt myself and others.
When anxiety trembles in my gut, I simply fear…and usually shut down because of it.
When the pain is unbearable, I fear bearing the burden of it, and I fear burdening others with it, too.
Because of these fears, for much of my life, I tried to shut down all of my feelings. I walked through the world numbly, which is helpful when you are a risk-taker who denies feeling fear.
But it’s not helpful for a human trying to be your most alive and known self.
As a therapist, I’ve learned that everything I’ve ever feared about my feelings is a myth. I’ve told myself lies to protect myself and others from my feelings, when really, the lies made the feelings worse, because my feelings continued to exist, lonely and hidden, amidst my shame. In other words, I’ve stuffed my feelings inside as far as they could go, only to carry them with me longer than necessary.
As a therapist, I’ve learned that when you feel your feelings and express your feelings, your feelings eventually end.
And when they do, you get to feel something else entirely: you get to feel the breath in your lungs and the aliveness of your soul. You get to fully exist in this world.
As a therapist, I’ve learned every feeling is an invitation to celebrate existence.
Sadness is an invitation to mourn a loss, while celebrating the goodness and joy that makes the loss difficult in the first place.
Anger is an invitation to advocate for yourself, your boundaries, or your beliefs, and maybe honor your unique passion in the process.
Anxiety is an invitation to listen to your fear and your gut, and to be brave enough to decide what you want to do with it…even if that means avoiding worms for the rest of your life.
Pain is an invitation to empathy and connection, because by being present in your pain and humanity, you are infinitely more able to be present with others.
When all of our feelings can be felt, joy can be experienced in the fullness of it all, because joy isn’t a feeling in and of itself: it’s the freedom to experience all of our feelings.
As a therapist, I’ve learned this is true bravery: to feel, and to feel fully alive.
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