Yesterday morning, Osh and I were hanging before I started work. I was drinking coffee, he was playing with blocks and we were reading out loud from Kelly Oxford’s When You Find Out The World Is Against You (don’t judge… Osh loves it. He is on the “advanced” reading plan).
At some point, he got really fussy. I started checking the usual suspects. Dirty diaper? Nope. Hungry? Nope. Fever? Nope.
Fussy turned into explosive crying. He was clearly unhappy, so I tried to think about ways I could “fix” his mood.
I made his stuffed elephant talk. I turned on Grateful Dead. I did my best Lisa Turtle impression, dancing “the sprain.” I tried my best to distract him from his mood, but being a one woman show is exhausting. Also, I’m clearly not a good one woman show because nothing worked.
Where is Amy Schumer when you need her?
I had a moment of panic. HOW DO I FIX THIS?!
And, in that moment, I saw myself. Not in the “oh my gosh, this child is so beautiful and don’t we look so much alike?” way. But in the, “there have been so many moments in my life where I have felt something that wasn’t full of rainbows and unicorns and my default was to try to fix it” way.
When the feelings that were tougher for me to experience, like rejection, failure, and heartbreak, came up for me, I used to be an expert at defaulting to fix it mode (otherwise known as cover it up mode, push it down mode, or run like hell from it mode). Many times I would turn to food, online shopping, or social media just to try to escape the thing that felt uncomfortable to feel in an effort to “fix it.”
But, no matter how many brownies smeared in nut butter I ate, how many blouses and ankle boots I bought, or how many photos of perfectly poured lattes I liked, the feeling was still waiting for me (often magnified thanks to the aforementioned fixing techniques).
I spent a lot of years thinking that uncomfortable feelings meant I was doing something wrong. Like, if I was skinnier or had the perfect job or traveled the world for a year that I would never have to feel anything other than relaxation, excitement, and joy.
I’ve tried to think a lot about when I started to believe that feeling something uncomfortable meant “you need fixed!” rather than “you need felt.” I still can’t quite figure it out. But, what I do remember vividly is the moment I decided to try something new.
At the time, I was working at the law firm and had a very challenging day at the office. One of the partners I worked with had said something very hurtful about me to another one of the partners, who had then told me what she had said. I felt rejected. I felt like a failure. And I felt heartbroken. It was all of my least favorite feelings wrapped up in a bow (but not a pretty bow, more like a bow made of poop. I’m no Martha Stewart, but even I know that NOBODY LIKES A BOW MADE OF POOP!).
I left the office and headed home. When I got there, I realized Tim wasn’t home from work yet. Traditionally, the most binge-triggering time of the day for me was the hour or so after work, when I was feeling exhausted, often struggling with more challenging emotions, and was in the house alone. I went into the kitchen and started rummaging. I went through the cabinets hunting for something that would make me less of a rejected, heartbroken failure. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! I found a bag of pretzels, some cookies, chocolate chips, and a jar of peanut butter. NAILED IT! Extra points because I was confident I could smash all these foods up and eat them together in some sort of sweet-salty combo.
As I took out a mixing bowl, I heard my coach Amy’s voice in my head. She gently said, “if you choose to feel it, you can handle it.”
I decided in that moment to that I would try. After all, those pretzels would still be there in a few minutes, right?
I left all the food on the counter, went up to my bedroom, took off my bra (trust me: it’s so much easier to feel feelings when you can ditch the bra), and got under the covers. It was still light out but I didn’t care. I let all the weight of my head sink into the pillow and I cried my eyes out. I cried so hard. I cried because I had been working so much. I cried because, even if I didn’t want it to, what that partner thought about me did matter to me. I cried because I thought she was my mentor and it turned out she didn’t care about me the way that I thought she had. I cried because I was really unhappy at my job and it pissed me off that I was letting something that made me so unhappy make me even MORE unhappy. I cried because it felt good to cry. I just felt it ALL. Once I got started feeling, it was like I entered the calm eye of the storm. It actually felt so quiet to be in the midst of so many feelings. I just let myself lay there, feeling and crying, for a long time.
The next thing I knew, Tim was waking me up. He was standing over me asking “are you sick? Is everything OK?” I guess somewhere between sobbing like a child and feeling all the feelings, I had fallen asleep.
My eyes were swollen and itchy from all the tears, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that my answer to Tim was “yes!! I am OK!” Just like Amy had promised, I was able to handle it. I was suddenly free to feel those uncomfortable feelings. The best part about feeling it? The release that came after.
Since then, I’ve tried to remember to do less fixing and more feeling.
So, on Monday morning when all of my fixing flopped, I remembered this. I remembered to fix less and feel more.
I looked at Osh in the eyes and said “sometimes we just feel sad and, hey! It’s OK to feel sad.” I gave him a hug, let him cry, and pretty soon he fell asleep (like mother, like son, I guess!), too.
If you’re also trying to fix less and feel more, some my favorite ways to be in the moment with tough feelings are: crying, journaling (often while crying), praying (can be done while crying), walking outside (usually while crying), hot showers (also while crying) and getting a hug from someone I love (100% while crying).