“To honor and accept one’s shadow is a profound spiritual discipline. It’s whole-making and thus holy and the most important experience of a lifetime.” ~Robert Johnson
There's nothing worse than having a bad day (or week or years…)
Or when emotions take over and carry us away.
Or when our relationships bring challenges.
Or when we endure great loss.
Or when we wish that just once when things started getting good, they stayed that way.
But difficult times are really offerings that show us what no longer serves us. And once they’re cleared, they no longer have power over us.
No one, including myself, wants to feel bad. After decades of trying to overcome depression and anxiety, one day, I finally stopped trying to fix myself. I then came to the amazing realization that there’s really no problem with me.
This is what set me free:
Several years ago, my parents both died of cancer, I had many miscarriages, my husband and I divorced, and my dog of sixteen years had to be put down.
It was intensely difficult, and I fell apart. I hardly recognized myself. At the same time, even in my darkest hour, I knew in my gut that I would somehow get through it.
In the midst of my mid-life crises, wondering when and how I would get over the debilitating, soul-crushing loss, I trusted myself not completely, but enough.
During that time, I made a new friend whose father had recently passed. I invited him over for a bowl of my famous Italian chicken sausage lentil soup.
He was angry and confused. He was in shock. I picked up my soup in the palms of my hands and said to him, “Grief is a big bowl to hold.”
At any given time, without knowing why or how, grief can overcome us in a number of aching expressions.
We get super pissed off. Or we want to hide. Or we push away those we love, and wall off. We want to numb the pain. Or cover it up.
Seemingly insignificant annoyances trigger us. Perhaps a token, memory, or random happenstance wells us up.
We all mourn in different ways, wanting more than anything for it all to end. And we sometimes pretend that it’s over when it’s not.
Someone once told me that there is grief and frozen grief.
Frozen grief is grief that got stuck like water passing from a liquid to a solid state—a cohesion of molecules holding together, resisting separation. Like a Coke in a freezer, it can burst.
Warmth and equilibrium are what’s needed to nurture it. But there’s not a single temperature that can be considered to be the melting point of water.
I read once that after suffering a great loss, it takes two years to heal—or at least have a sense that the trauma is now of the past, even if not “over.”
At two years, I was doing better but I still wasn’t great. I worried then I was frozen.
Cheryl Strayed wrote in Brave Enough:
“When you recognize that you will thrive not in spite of your losses and sorrows, but because of them, that you would not have chosen the things that happen in your life, but you are grateful for them, that you will hold the empty bowls eternally in your hands, but you also have the capacity to fill them? The word for that is healing.”
Cheryl Strayed knew about the bowl too.
It took four years, and then one day, I saw the clouds disperse and the sun rise. I was frustrated it wasn’t two. It was four. But that’s how long it took me.
In the grand scheme of things I can look back now and see all that I learned and how I grew. In my most broken hideous moments the most magical thing happened.
I came to love my big, beautiful, messy self. I came to accept her like nothing else.
As much as I missed my mother and father, the husband I loved, the babies I didn’t have, and the dog that replaced them, I came to a place of loving myself like my own parent, my own spouse, and my own child.
I was all that was left. And if that was it, then by God I was going to love her.
And what did loving myself really mean?
It meant accepting myself enough to allow myself to be a mess.
To not apologize 100 times for every single mistake, or kill myself over them.
To humbly say to others and myself, this is it.
And then, somehow, I started to accept others like myself. They got to be messes too. And my heart opened. And I could love again. And I let love into my big, beautiful bowl of lentil soup.
Here are some tools to help you love yourself as you feel all that you’re feeling—the good and the bad.
1. Accept feelings without judgment.
Use this question:
What if it didn’t matter if I felt ________ or not?
Then, fill in the blank with whatever you’re judging yourself for. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is.
Let it be, without doing anything with it or trying to make sense of it, while holding a loving container for yourself and the people around it.
2. When an emotion is carrying you away, identify the feeling by narrowing it down to one of these:
Our feelings are layered. Underneath anger is fear, under fear is sadness, and under sadness is our heart, where our joy and loving lies.
This formula can guide you in uncovering each of your emotional experiences to come to your heart more quickly.
For example, after my mother died I was angry. I didn’t know why I felt so angry until I cleared through the layers.
I discovered I was mad that she left me. But the anger wouldn’t have subsided until I identified the fear underneath it: I was terrified of living life without my mom, and I was shutting down my vulnerable feelings to protect myself.
Of course, under the fear was tremendous sadness that she was gone. In order to heal, I needed to feel the tears rather than suppress them with anger and fear.
Once I could touch the tender, fragile parts inside, my tears had permission to flow out whenever necessary.
When my tears emptied, the sadness lifted and was replaced with enormous love, compassion, and gratitude for my mom. When I thought about her it didn’t come with pain anymore. I think of her now only with happiness and joy.
3. Realize that spirals both descend and ascend.
When we hit a particularly difficult downward spiral, we have the opportunity to focus on raising our frequency.
In these times, I meditate more. I choose not to fuel the negativity by talking too much about it with friends. I clean up my diet. I go to yoga—whatever I can do to make a positive adjustment toward self-loving and self-care.
I find something to ground me. It could be as easy as taking the garbage out (literally!), jumping into a creative project that fulfills me, or taking a walk in the sunshine—anything to find the scent of the roses.
4. Know that after good experiences, “bad” things will happen.
After expansion, we always contract. And that means nothing about us.
Life brings us lemons so that we can discover how to go deeper and closer to our true selves. Once we’ve hit one level, there’s always another.
We can have some good days where everything is great, and then WHOA, something steps in that challenges us to grow.
I’ve come to accept that I will eventually lose momentum after being in the flow.
The good news about feeling bad is that when we get thrown off course, each letdown strengthens our spirit when we find our way out.
“Downtimes” are our ally. Without “bad,” “good” wouldn’t exist, and just like life, we learn to roll with it. What’s most important is how we acknowledge and validate our being human as truly enough.