Smile

It is so hard to put my emotions into words which will convey the deepest levels of pain I have experienced in losing people I love through the years. It is equally difficult to describe the numb that comes along with masking these emotions for so long. I don’t think there is any true or proper way of grieving in all honesty, but I also think I have avoided grieving many people because I really never allowed myself to slow down and process these things.

One part of me holds on to the faith that every person I have lost (living or not) is still with me when I need them to be there, and- not only that- as the person I need them to be. A situation may arise when I’m excited and want to tell Person A as I did years ago. Another situation may cause me confusion and I need to ask for guidance from Person B. There are times I feel lost. In these moments, I think of my papa giving me step by step directions, complete with landmarks and doodles. This type of coping is applicable for many situations and feelings, whether I be completely alone in my room or at work or in a crowd of people. I always hold my people- when I knew them at their best- near to my heart.

Another part of me is so angry, and it is in this scenario when I isolate. I get so angry that I tremble and cry. I feel helpless. Life seems so unfair sometimes. It legitimately feels as though there is a curse and the reckoning began as I entered puberty. Isn’t that painful enough? No? You want me to lie in the ditch for twenty more years? Okay, then.

When you watch people you love die, leave, fall into depression, fall into drugs, fall into despair, fall into hopelessness, the most difficult thing to do is smile. But, it’s what he would have wanted.

Emotional Baggage Claim

I used to think that the only reason I am not in jail or on the street is because I have always had a strong support group. Not everyone is so lucky to have been raised and cared for by incredible humans. Even to this day, I know I have more than a handful of people I can call and count on to be where I need them to be, when I need them to be there. Considering the multiple issues literally plaguing the world right now, I feel… how should I put this?

blessed.

It should also be said that these supportive people have taught me valuable lessons that have led me to believe that, in addition to their loyalty, I can finally give my self credit for my small successes in various areas in my life. It took years of hard work, courage, strength, perseverance, humility, trial and error, learning, growth, and trust- or rather, the ability to allow yourself to make decisions for yourself, or ask others for help or advice in time of need- to become what I consider to be a person I can be proud of.

While I have experienced multiple life-changing in-an-instant scenarios and traumas, I have also experienced positive rewards that stemmed from these experiences. The trick was, and continues to be, releasing negativity so that it doesn’t remain housed in some nook or cranny of my subconscious. Many people practice Reiki, or pray, or use Tarot cards, or other things to practice releasing these negative emotions associated with actual experiences that remain ever present in our subconscious- whether we fully comprehend, acknowledge, or engage with them or not.

As I have written in an earlier post, I am dreaming of interacting with someone very close to me, someone who I have had to draw a line with in my waking hours so as to not continue experiencing negative consequences in my own life and that of my child’s. But my subconscious chooses the easy, positive emotions I once felt in this person’s presence (and long to feel again in relation to this individual who so powerfully influenced my life), and if these are reflections of my true intentions and feelings for this person, I’m good with it. My discipline in maintaining my boundary while awake, however, remains indefinitely because it is ultimately up to this individual to make healthier choices that will positively influence her life and the relationships of those closest to her. When she is ready, she, too, will feel the need to release the negative emotions associated with her own traumas, and perhaps then will make the decisions which are necessary to either take action- or steps- towards healing herself, or allow (trust) someone who is qualified to assist her in this process. I root for her both subconsciously and consciously, and I feel confident that one day, she, too, will do what is necessary to live the life she was intended to live, cultivating healthy relationships that are meaningful and beneficial to her.

We have all had experiences that scar us, or leave us wrecked. We all have people in our lives who have failed to meet our expectations and needs. Cue Let Down by Radiohead. Perhaps we have all experienced abandonment at some point. Maybe the relationships that we just couldn’t quite figure out or weren’t serving us in any uplifting way have instead left us feeling confused, vulnerable, bitter, non-trusting, insecure and, well, unattractive.

How unappealing can someone be? I think surely, by now, we all must know.

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. As my favorite heartbroken comedian of all time- born an abandoned orphan, died forever loved by millions- wrote: …if you just smile

Side note: my grandfather played this song on his steel guitar and it is something I revisit from time to time. I found out years later that he did so at my uncle’s request. Another side note: sometimes, it’s the little things that get us through the big things.

I used to be friends with a guy my own age who possessed some supernatural ability to read me very easily- something I had heard from countless others was “very hard” to do. I can be aloof, distant, mysterious more often than not when engaged in social situations. I am the butterfly, fluttering from one person to the next, always eager to make contact but becoming (not necessarily bored, but) genuinely interested in everything and everyone else around me as well. I have been told “I’ve never met a stranger”, which is very commonplace being that I have lived in Alabama the better majority of my life. People say “it’s a Southern thing”, which I find is mostly true. Our culture is entrenched with hospitality and community and serving others (which is partly why those who work doing the direct opposite around here truly bother me).

But this guy told me something when we were probably 22 years old that I had never heard anyone say about me before, and the revelation sort of stuck.

“You’re bitter.”

Denial was the initial response. “No I am not! How am I bitter?” I would dismissively argue. How can someone who is bitter be the funny, always smiling, just wanna have a good ole time girl? Well, easily… as I learned years and years (and many, many years) later. In fact, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense that I opted for goofy behaviors because that was my defense mechanism- my distraction- from all the bullshit that has happened throughout my personal life. I’m certainly not the first human who has adapted to life this way. (Again, Charlie Chaplin comes to mind.)

‘Claiming your emotional baggage’ is something I feel like I naturally came up with but am certain has been previously spoken by any ole mental health practitioner or written in any ole self-help book. “The first step is admitting you have a problem.” “The first obstacle to overcome is denial.” Blah blah blah. I like ‘claiming my emotional baggage’ because I have leisurely strolled to baggage claim numerous times over the years in airports, and the main reason I have been to airports was to visit my mother (who I have a complex relationship with and much of my baggage is related to this). It allows me to relate these terms to actual experiences, which in turn helps me claim this emotional baggage using powerfully vivid and meaningful visualization.

Because I have intentionally or unintentionally run from that baggage for years, it helps me to visualize myself walking up the down escalator, year after year, to avoid a) the crowd/mainstream traffic, b) the baggage itself, and c) confronting situations- and people- I need to confront. This visualization is an easy replication of what I have been doing subconsciously since I was a child- running away from any and all problems that have struck my family and I to this murky, subterranean level, where anything and everything has been ruined, for seemingly as long as my brain has had the ability to store memory. Likewise, I have stored these mildewed emotions relating to these memories- and, boy, what disastrous memories I have! It’s like tending to a pile of broken down vehicles in my front yard that for seemingly no reason at all, I’ve kept guarded from outsiders for years! LOL!!!

After the denial and the stress that comes from realizing you have a) been bitter, b) been in denial for years, and c) have tedious work to do in dealing with thirty plus years of your shit subsides- now you can let go. Just… be still. Let the escalator carry you to the basement level, that flood of emotions you need to cautiously wade through to in order to realize, recover, and handle your distorted and perhaps unrecognizable baggage.

This meticulous- and not overnight process- will most likely open up a big ass can of worms. When you’re down in your yuck stuff that you’ve avoided almost your entire life, you can react in all sorts of unfun ways. It may cause your depression or anxiety to flare up. In my case, it may lead to spontaneous purchases that cause temporary illusions of joy, which may affect your finances and end up only causing more long term grief. This process may even affect you physically- an example would be more intense back and neck pain due to tension or worry (almost my case). These emotions you begin to unlock will undoubtedly intrude some areas of your life- sleep, work, play, whatever, and where ever, and at any given moment, which in turn could create more negative situations you have to ultimately deal with. Buuuuuuuuuuuut! Working through this process is a better alternative to continuing to bottle your negative emotions that stem from these terrible tragedies in your life that will most certainly- and perhaps literally- cripple you eventually if left unchecked and lurking below the surface. They may be lurking in your subconscious files, but they still absolutely exist and they will undoubtedly affect you. Do not run from your problems. Meet and greet them, and then kindly kick their ass.

Many times, I face problems alone. At least, I think I do. It isn’t that I deny I have problems now, it’s that I prefer not to ask for help most of the time. Shame, fear, regret- all of those (stupid, but valid) emotions are the raging rivers we cross. I don’t want people I love to continuously feel that I need rescued yet again. Rather than locking arms with people to safely get across, I pack my board and paddle and maneuver through the thrashing waves- fearlessly solo, without a life jacket. Stupid? Definitely! But my philosophy has always been it’s my life (as sung in TLC’s My Life which I felt was my personal anthem in my early teenage years.)

The truth and reality is, what we do- and often worse, do not do- affects others, especially those who love us and those whom we love. And that, in turn, also affects our own lives. So while we think we are handling our own, we are instead sabotaging our own- even if we can’t see immediate effects presently, eventually we see the effects manifesting in our future own. Which, sadly, can result in more challenging- even impossible- issues to deal with when cognitive functioning declines in old age. Hello, Dementia- you horrible bitch.

Reaching out for another human hand is nothing to be afraid of. If your parents are part of your issue, you can find hands elsewhere. We can look for answers and assistance along many alternate avenues. You don’t necessarily have to call your mother every single time you’re in an emotional crisis, or your father every single time you’re in physical pain- these are just totally random examples and definitely do not apply to me personally. Still to this day, I tend to retreat within in order to defend myself, and while I do seek answers from many, various sources, much of my strength is what I feel I have cultivated from within.

One of the results of adapting this independent self healer method for years is that I have very thick skin. I can handle many crisis situations that arise rather easily, which has allowed me to extend help to others who find themselves in need of a hand. This, I have learned, is only another defense mechanism. When you focus on other people’s problems and attempt to help those in need, you tend to focus less on your own damn self. Many people in my family are like this. I have paramedics, trauma nurses, mental health nurses, engineers, military leaders, and so forth in my family whose jobs revolve around problem solving and helping those either in crises or life threatening situations. I have been there, done that, as they say, and while it definitely has its immediate advantages, it also has long-term drawbacks.

One of those other results is that I find myself receiving less and less invitations to do fun stuff that even in my mid-thirties, I still crave. While this gradually (and probably naturally) occurs with age, in my case, it also has to do with my financial situation. Being a single mother with plenty of bills has been challenging, and expecting anyone to pay for dinner and a movie is completely out of the question for me. I don’t look favorably to favors. In fact, I consider them to be burdensome. And so, I have rejected multiple invitations that have been extended to me through the years, either because I didn’t have time, I was working or had other responsible adult commitments, or because I couldn’t afford whatever experience was being offered. This creates another bag that I am working to claim even now- the bitterness of growing old and isolated, while my friends either move away for better opportunity or stop inviting me to go out because they now assume I don’t have the time or money for it. (And they aren’t wrong.)

Claiming your emotional baggage is a job in of itself. It takes all of the things I mentioned in the second paragraph above, but sometimes, it takes something other worldly to permit you to light the contents on fire. You don’t need no man. Let it go, darling. You’re seeing black smoke now and unsure what the next step might be. “Okay Teacher, I’ve handled my baggage. I’ve set my basement on fire and now I can’t see and I’m beginning to inhale toxins. Now what?” What happens when you’re dealing with these things on your own and you think you know thyself, but you quickly determine you actually do not? I imagine Atreyu at the Sphinx Gates he must cross to meet the Southern Oracle. Be confident!

Confidence is a very complicated issue. Lack of confidence is also a weighted load. Lack of confidence can be something that inconveniences your entire adult life. For example, my grandmother refuses to drive. She drove a dune buggy in the sand (not joking) and got out of the vehicle, mortified and trembling. Has refused to drive ever since. It can also be something simple, but kinda hilarious. My grandmother also absolutely detests the way a peach feels to the touch. I was always curious about this. Still to this day, she will scream if you hold a peach near her. I stopped doing this when I was probably twelve or so. (Imagine that any time a Presidents of the United States of America song comes on the radio, you think about calling your grandma.)

When you ask yourself questions, think what the answer might be if you were to ask, say… a grandma, an Oracle, a Pastor, a Spirit, God Almighty Himself. Convince yourself that the answers come from a place of light and love, that there are people and powers that do exist that want to unify and glorify us and life. Convince yourself that beauty is everywhere, and that we deserve something beautiful. Simply allowing yourself to be open to asking a question to someone- or something- who/that possesses power greater than your own might help frame a window you didn’t notice before. This window could very well become your escape route once you have spent enough time digging around in the basement. This window will help guide you to the sunshine, and release you from that pain you endured for years.

Maybe in dealing with old traumas, you have also discovered some rather meaningful snippets of time, or things that remind you of good times that you had forgotten. Maybe now you feel gratitude for what you discovered in the basement- perhaps about yourself and others that you couldn’t quite recognize before. You can obtain peace in this letting smoke out and letting light in through the window process.

You can let go of something that traumatized you to the point you once physically shook. You can work past feelings that left you convinced you were unwanted, and work towards feelings that leave you annoyed because you are wanted too much. (Ha.) But in all seriousness, claiming your emotional baggage is the best thing you can do for yourself. While you can– and definitely should– get assistance, it is ultimately your choice and your efforts that determine how you approach and navigate the process- and eventually, produce the fruits of your labor.

Speaking of fruit, while I am still working through my traumas and past, I no longer feel so bitter. Life is sweet, like a peach. And yes, I’m going to call my grandma…