Mar 30, 2011
My Mix Tape
There are several seemingly harmless cliches that play in my head like a bad mix tape. Coping cliches.
Side A: Coping
Armed with coping cliches playing on my mind's mix tape, it's no wonder that I've developed coping mechanisms to avoid the pain. As long as I can ignore the pain, then I'm okay. That is, until I need to find something else to dull the pain. Things like watching television, escaping into books or Facebook, cleaning, or various hobbies. Trying to be a good (perfect!) mother, wife, or hostess can be a form of coping. Investing time in relationships that aren't primary relationships is coping. (Developing relationships with friends is good, developing relationships to avoid pain and that cost your primary relationships is not so good.) Even submersing myself in bible study becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism if I'm doing it to avoid facing my wounding.
Here are some of the cliches that played on my mix tape:
"Time heals all wounds."
I used to believe this. I grew up with it. If something was wrong, if something bad happened, if someone was angry or hurting or sad, you might have heard it said in my house.
That is, if you heard anything at all. Because, really, if you embrace the belief that time heals, then you don't really need to speak about what happened or address it. In fact, you can ignore it and pretend that it didn't happen because time will heal the wounding, not words or actions. Or at least that's what we acted like we believed.
"Just let it go." / "Deal with it."
These are also familiar phrases in my mind's mix tape. Often, dealing with it meant letting it go, which of course meant not addressing it. You don't need to address it, though, because time heals.
And so it goes. Retreat. Close the door. Don't come out until you can pretend like you're all better. When someone asks you what's wrong, say "nothing" and force a smile. Now you've dealt with it and we can all feel better about ourselves.
"Let go and let God."
This is where it gets really tricky for me because of course we're supposed to let go of our own control and let God have control of the situation. It sounds so good, so right to let go. It helps me explain away in a holy way why I don't address a bad situation, confront a wrongdoing or express an 'unacceptable' emotion, like anger or frustration. I can say that I'm letting go and letting God.
Except often that well intentioned cliche ends up looking like this: I forgo the honesty of letting my emotions and my behaviours match up. Instead I dump it off on God, who becomes a convenient and righteous excuse for me to hide from my true emotions. (Emotions that God created me with in the first place, by the way, as sort of an indicator system to tell me if something needs to be addressed or not.) So by not addressing it, I am in fact not letting God work in me. I am not letting go of the control. 'Let go and let God' became 'Hold on and hide from everyone, including God.'
"Consider it pure joy."
Is it any wonder that my favorite verse in high school was "Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters when you face trials of many kinds. Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish it's work, that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)"?
I felt many negative emotions in high school. I'm sure your vivid imaginations can come up with some teenage predicaments that may have caused me anger. For those reasons - and others - I felt hurt, angry, alone, sad, depressed. But I thought I couldn't feel the anger or express the hurt if I were to be a good Christian. I had to consider it joy (smiley face, exclamation point).
Or at least that's what I thought based on those bible verses. And what I continued to think until fairly recently. Those verses gave me a perverse hope, actually. My thinking went something like this: if only I could surpress my true emotions and truly let time heal the wounds, that I could let go and let God make me joyful, and then I'd be mature and complete. I thought I could deal with hurt by ignoring it - in a very spiritual way of course, coated with bible verses and aided by time - and it would go away.
It turns out I was wrong. The pain from the wounding might diminish, but the wound doesn't heal unless you acknowledge it. Joy isn't happiness. Joy isn't a lack of heavy emotions, either. Pretending to be joyful about the hurt, or just completely ignoring it, instead of being honest about it made me incomplete and crippled.
Ignoring the wound, trusting time to heal the hurt, is no way to be healthy. Time only puts distance between the wounding and the present. The distance makes the pain less noticeable. But the wound is still there. When the next wounding occurs, you better believe that the first wound is now open again and gaping. In fact, since the first wounding wasn't addressed, it's probably infected now.
Side B: Congruency
I'm trying really hard to cope with my pain in a healthy way, to let my emotions and my actions be congruent. I have found out that it's okay for me to say "I'm angry." It's okay to sit in my heavy emotions for a little while. It's okay for people to know that I'm angry. Or sad. Or frustrated. Or weak. Or imperfect. This is revolutionary for me because I always thought it was pretty much not okay to express anger or any other negative thing. (Obviously, how you express the anger is a key point that I am not touching on here. Only because that's not what has been so revolutionary in this process of becoming healthy.)
I'm letting God - not time - heal me by actively participating in addressing my pain. It's a lot of work. It's not easy. It involves looking deep into me and finding things that I don't really like. It scares me. It seems so much easier to let time heal the wounds and abdicate myself from the responsibility of being present in relationships and being real. I'm afraid that if I express my anger, or sadness, or [insert heavy emotion here] then you won't like me. But then you wouldn't know the real me.
Because sometimes I feel angry. I admit it.