You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book. Psalm 56:8 The Message
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love. Washington Irving
Deep-knotted muscles, tight like a sailor’s knot, unwind while sitting across from Jeri Stupar my good friend and pastor (Honey Creek Church, Wisconsin) Jeri’s wise, passionate and empathetic, skilled at blending encouragement with challenge while engaging those experiencing trauma.
Knowing my story well, Jeri was an integral part of my several decade journey reversing a troubling childhood coping mechanism: an aversion to acknowledging and expressing my feelings. Long before this breakfast get-together, she and others with a more balanced emotional and theological perspective had helped me understand that all emotions are part of the human experience.
Although she had not experienced a similar crisis, she displayed empathy when I expressed embarrassment about what felt like an out-of-control emotional weakness. Way back in the corner of my soul, I believed my response to this crisis revealed an emotionally immature child. Her empathetic response altered the trajectory of my trauma recovery journey moving forward.
“Donna, if I had experienced this crisis, I would be in bed, blankets over my head, sobbing.”
Her tone, body language and words aligned and mirrored a healthy response to a traumatic event at a moment in time when I couldn’t. She normalized and validated my feelings, response, and encouraged me to let the tears come; something the psalmist had intuitively done several thousands years ago.
That outcome of that pivotal breakfast (because WHO could resist Heinemann’s perfect baked oatmeal?) continues bearing fruit. Trauma recovery requires what often feels like an overwhelming and lengthy journey spent identifying, acknowledging and grieving losses. A journey eased, as it was with me in that moment when shared with empathetic others.
Yet, “the way out is through.” A wise friend shared this quote, one that serves as a compass when I need to acknowledge, accept and communicate feelings that once felt overwhelming. I can now grieve both past and present losses, and I’m better prepared to mourn losses that will certainly be present in the future.
When I slip back into listening to an internal belief system that tells me a feeling is wrong or bad (yes, that still happens – but now I can quickly and authentically acknowledge my feelings) I pause, then ask myself questions like:
What am I feeling now?
What is this feeling saying to me about me?
Is what it’s saying distorting my reality? Is it a false narrative about me?
Where in my body am I feeling it? (Tension in my shoulders, is my gut taut? Pulse racing? of a headache?”
Have I felt that physical response before? When? Under what conditions or types of interactions?
What have I learned about my reaction to this feeling, and how did I respond then?
Who are my empathetic, supportive, truth-speaking resources? What would they tell me now?
Initially, I practiced this process through journaling. Like a miner digging for nuggets of gold, I explored tools like a feeling wheel to help me learn how to choose words that better caught the nuance of my feelings. Finally, about my comfort level with grief and loss. I have yet to lose the wonder of the human body, we are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully created.
How about you?
How comfortable are you with acknowledging or expressing your feelings, especially your losses?
What has helped you become more comfortable with your feelings?
Which feelings trouble you most?
How safe might you feel practicing pausing, and exploring your discomfort by asking yourself questions like those listed above?