September 16, 2020
I have a bad habit of keeping my emotions bottled up. Not only are these emotions in a bottle, they are basically in a lockbox that I throw into a deep pit and then pour concrete over. To say that I don’t like to show my feelings is quite an understatement. I’m more of a slap on a smile, keep the lips tightly together and play up all the niceties so no one will suspect the avalanche of chaos going on in the other room. That can pretty much describe my coping abilities in a nutshell. Whatever you do, don’t let them see your crazy.
I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day peeling back all the layers and there’s probably something to be gained from that, but after having gone to therapy I can tell you the most valuable lessons I learned were not from looking backward but from looking forwards. Sometimes the pain of the past brings up more pain and at that point in my life, I was ready to move on. But no matter how badly I wanted to do that, I didn’t have any tools. All I had was a beat-up old toolbox that was two decades old and all my hammers were rusty.
The first step I had to embrace was how my old way of thinking was what brought me to this place. So in order to create a new outcome, I had to do something different. Tony Robbins is a rockstar when it comes to this concept. He candidly points out how we are required to embrace a new system if we want to make any significant changes in our lives.
For me, this started with not letting my emotions sink to the depths of my soul only to fester. I had to stare them down, even when they made me incredibly uncomfortable, and speak truth into them. Sometimes this conversation even went outside of my head and straight into the ears of another person. The thought of telling someone how I felt made me want to equal parts throw up and pass out. The people-pleaser in me would get all sweaty and on the verge of a panic attack at the mere thought of their reaction. And yet I had to do it.
This came to light when I met my college sweetheart. He is about as kind-hearted, thoughtful, and normal (in the best sense of the word) as they come. His family went to church every Sunday (his grandfather was a pastor), he was an all-star athlete and he never saw his parents fight. And he was (and still is) the most humble person I know. He was honest and cared about me way more than I cared about myself. I had no idea why anyone this special would choose me.
And then I tried to sabotage it.
All my insecurities bubbled to the surface and threatened to expose me as the fake that I felt I was. A double life. On the outside I was outgoing, the life of the party (literally, I would stand on tables and sing Whitney Houston at full volume!) and incredibly happy. But inside I was dying. The ever-present alcohol threw gasoline on my alter-ego and I was suddenly invincible. I was fun, outgoing and someone even I wanted to be around.
But morning always came. The sun would bring a new day and usually an awful hangover. I would have to face myself, the stripped-down real version with all the fears and anxieties. My vodka superpowers had long since dissipated and I was left with smudged eyeliner and a fuzzy memory of the night’s shenanigans.
I quickly learned that this new cute guy didn’t just like the party girl, but he wanted to actually get to know me. In fact, he wanted to hang out, completely sober, and talk. Having lived the Greek life for almost two years at that point, I’ll tell you straight up that most frat boys don’t want to hang out and talk unless you’re naked.
So here we were two people on the verge of dating and he wanted to know me, the real me. I felt like I had hit a major crossroads. Inside I had declared no more boyfriends. I had one in high school and as nice as he could be he was also incredibly controlling. I fully recognize now that a 17-year-old is certainly not equipped with a boyfriend manual and what started out as sweet attention eventually turned into something else that felt like complete suffocation. Needless to say, I was not at all interested in dating. Been there done that. College was my freedom and I intended to live that mantra to the fullest.
And yet he was just too cute and kind. I wanted to know him and I found myself daydreaming about when I would see him next. One night we stayed up almost all night and I poured out my heart. Somewhere in those early morning hours, the floodgates broke open and I found myself sharing secrets I had never breathed before. Thoughts and feelings that had not yet fully formed spilled out of my mouth and at one point tears streamed down my face as I gave in to the great relief of letting someone not only peek but fully stand behind the curtain. All my vulnerabilities stretched out in front of me. Every single flaw and imperfection were on the table and for the first time in my life and I didn’t care. The exhaustion of not being authentically myself melted. In that single suspension of time, I was free. And it was beautiful.
In the 17 years since I first shared those feelings, I have certainly learned a lot. For starters, my sweet hubby has even coined a phrase for getting all the emotions out in the open. He calls it, “letting the bees out.” Let’s be honest, the only thing worse than a swarm of bees is a trapped and angry swarm of bees. Oftentimes our emotions are the same. When we try to trap and control them, they tend to get worse. And like angry bees, when they eventually do come out it will be much worse than if we just dealt with them in the moment. So in our house, we offer a gentle invitation to “let the bees out.” Or if I have something really big or difficult on my mind, I will begin by saying “I just need to get these bees out.” Like a secret code, we both understand that this is the serious stuff of life that needs to be handled and worked through.
You would think after 17 years I would have this perfected this. But the human part of me still falls short. Emotions are pushed down, feelings get trampled, words are left unspoken, and then there’s the added craziness of COVID-19. This invisible enemy has completely turned Justin’s fitness business upsidedown and caused him to work an insane amount of hours leaving us maybe 10-15 minutes a day to talk and some days not at all. It is crazy-making stuff. One thing I do know is that when I honestly communicate then I’m able to move forward. Even if it’s a quick text. Every teeny tiny step is still progress. Even if it’s wrapped in fear and angry bees are on my heels, it’s still one step closer to a solution. One thing I know about myself is sooner or later the truth always comes to light and I would much prefer it to be on my terms rather than in fits of anger or tears of frustration.
But we can only see it when we are honest with ourselves. God made each of us with tender love and care. We matter to Him and that needs to matter to us. Our feelings and thoughts also matter. I know I’m more likely to want to live the best version of my life when I remember the simple truth that God designed me for a great purpose. When I come from that place of courage, then it makes me want to live the truth inside of myself and share that with others. It also equips me better for when life gets difficult or disappointments litter the horizon. Any of us that have lived more than a day have experienced those setbacks and challenges because of the nature of the world we live in. Yet despite those difficulties, we can still choose to share honestly, openly, and from the heart. Because there is a beautiful thing that happens when we open up: we find a true connection. At our most vulnerable is our most real and authentic self. It is where we can give a voice to our secrets, fears, dreams, and hopes.
I’m not naive enough to say that this always works with every person. We do have to build a bit of trust first before we throw open the doors. And even then sometimes we get hurt. But I will tell you that through the hurt we often learn the big lessons. We see a bigger picture and in those heartbreaks, our eyes are opened wide. It needs to be a lesson along the way, not a giant stop sign on our journey. We are human and in this world, we hurt each other, even when we have good intentions. But that doesn’t mean we should give up sharing our truth or stop trying to connect. We just have to remember that the very people we are trying to connect with are also broken humans too who are fumbling their way through this life as well.
And yet sometimes an incredible thing happens. When those deep-rooted feelings and thoughts are met with outstretched arms filled with kindness and compassion. In those instances then healing, planning, hoping and dreaming can flourish. It is where the magic happens. Where two hearts connect and God is present at the center. When we have the courage to shatter our walls, then we can truly see ourselves and each other in the honest context that God designed us to be. To build friendships, marriages, and all of our relationships based on truth and authenticity instead of who we think we should be.
Of course, it takes time and trust. The road won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it. To be seen, known, heard, and accepted. To seek the good in others and truly care about what they have to say. To ultimately find peace in the most vulnerable places of our hearts. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to build our walls so high or even build them at all. And maybe with one small shift within ourselves, we can aspire to open the hearts of others and perhaps one heart at a time change the world. I can’t think of a better or more beautiful definition of love.
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