My first long-term relationship began the summer I was 18. We met on the Gulf Coast the only weeks after I graduated high school. He was 8 years older than me, and I still wore braces.
At its inception, I couldn’t understand why my mother and older sisters were so up in arms about my getting involved with him, but of course, I was too in it and hell-bent on learning whatever I could from the experience — which ended up as a dramatic, dangerous example of what can happen when you fall into an abusive relationship, convinced you can “save” someone. Over the course of those 18 months, I remember being compelled to keep going, to follow through with the lesson inherent in the misery of it all — I followed him to another state, dropped out of college and became intimately familiar with the heartbreaking confusion of loving an addict. The night I finally tore myself away, I was accompanied by a police escort.
When it was all over and I’d meet up with my girlfriends from high school — I was 19 years old — all of us still fresh, new and green in the world of adulthood, I’d talk about it, watching their wide eyes and mouths hanging open, feeling proud that I’d intentionally walked through a fire to teach myself what I felt I’d never have been able to learn in any other way. In the months and years that followed, I recognized that somewhere deep within me, my wild-eyed compulsion to understand the dynamics playing out in that relationship propelled me forward. I needed to complete the cycle and learn all there was to learn — only then would I be finished.
Gratefully, when all was said and done, I was safe — and bolstered by the fact that I’d learned tomes about the nature of relationships (and the pattern of unhealthy, abusive relationships at that) at so young an age. I came to see the horror I lived as an initiation into the gift of righteous rage, deep and abiding self-care and the necessity of saying no.
After having recently been in New York training to complete regression therapy training, I’ve realized this is a distinct quality of my soul: I volunteer for hard, deep lessons because on the other side, I emerge more fearless. If the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, then to me, real freedom is intimacy with the nature of fear, our relationship with it, and who we become in the face of what we think we cannot bear.
This is the power we’re all harnessing, lifetime after lifetime: Our soul’s power to trace itself back to the love at the center of our being, no matter who we are, what we’ve done, or what’s been done to us.
I’ve stepped back into my life here in California feeling very differently than when I left. A huge, heavy weight has been lifted from right in the center of my being — the source of which I hadn’t been able to trace and didn’t understand. This is gigantic gift, a freedom I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to have. When we believe what we fear is true about us rather than an innate knowing of who we are, we know we’ve got some digging to do.
After returning from my last trip to New York, a heaviness began to rise clumsily and loudly to the surface — a feeling I woke with almost every morning: deep, strangely familiar sadness right in the center of my chest. As my next trip to New York approached, I feared I would come home and it would still be there: a heavy mystery, an invisible boulder I couldn’t lift or shake or dissolve or heal.
It scared me that in the midst of so much healing work (my whole life being devoted this inner freedom) the sadness could be there at all, hanging out in the background. Even though I was so thrilled to be back in New York doing this work I love, by the second day of training, I was just trying to keep the mysterious sadness from collapsing me into tears.
I’m sharing this because you might know the feeling: I’d forgotten I’m human, too — still growing and expanding, still subject to the inevitable ebbs and flows that come with being awake, alive and most importantly, pushed to see whatever still sits in the shadows of awareness so that it can be healed. Being a therapist or healer doesn’t make you impervious to your own soul’s rhythms — if anything, it makes you more keenly aware when something is stepping forward to be transformed. We are always just around the corner from revelation, big or small, that reminds us of the astonishing light at our center.
I’m still reveling at how the week unveiled itself for me, day after day, and all that I saw that I couldn’t see before, until my last day and one final session I had with my teacher, which was the thing that shifted everything. My Life Between Lives session warrants a post of its own, but one thing became sparklingly clear:
Our souls urgently guide the process of remembering who we are. What we feel and experience can be seen as symptoms, of sorts, of our very human response to a soul pushing itself toward expansion. Also: we are not alone. Our lessons are not just ours and have a far-reaching effect we can’t even fathom. Only direct experience with the immensity of our being can convince us of our beauty.
One other thing.
While I know it’s common to shy away from all the feeling that gurgles up and threatens to unleash an emotional torrent we fear may never end (I hear the words “flood gate” from clients a lot, and I, too, have felt the fear fear that once it starts, it may never stop), I believe that feeling is what initiates us into deepest compassion for ourselves.
Approaching feeling can be like touching a hot stove. As we get closer to its source, we feel its heat — but truly coming in contact with it can burn, and it’s a reflex to back away to avoid being engulfed in pain. What’s missing, I believe, is to find an opening through the feeling we’re sure we don’t want to experience so that we can feel the thing we had every right to feel before it got pushed away, blocked, or learned was somehow dangerous to feel: The right to say no, express anger, disappointment, or trickier still… the longing for love.
Just last night, I spoke with a client about the delicacy of knowing what to do with the feeling once we come in contact with it. It’s important to understand that we fear feeling because of the beliefs that are attached to the feelings — or perhaps memories or trauma we don’t want to re-experience. The feeling itself, though, is usually an energy stored in the mind and also the body that simply begs release.
As a protective response to trauma (anything that feels threatening or overwhelming), consciousness and soul jumps out of the body, out of the experience, out of the feeling — and disconnects. It leaves almost every one of us, at some point, feeling incapable of entering into our feeling selves for fear of what we might find if we truly connect to our hearts and our bodies.
The best way I can describe it is this: While the pain you’ve experienced might not what you want to give attention to — nor the people involved with your abuse or trauma, emotional turmoil, great loss or suffering — but your feelings are just yours, and you have a right to them, independent of anyone or anything else. You can discover your right to feel and express independent of the people involved, or even the circumstances of the story, because feeling is energy, and it’s probably energy that’s been stored in your body and consciousness for a long, long time.
I keep wondering if, when it comes to stored emotion, there’s any other way to heal it than to feel it. In my experience, while the therapeutic process can take many forms, it starts and ends with feeling what was pushed away or blocked — surprisingly, this isn’t just pain. We may also be blocking joy, playfulness, sensuality or even love and gratitude for the people and experiences that have shaped us. I think Brené Brown said it in a Ted Talk somewhere: You can’t selectively feel.
In this way, feeling is incredibly pure and liberating. When we can gently peel back the layers of belief around locked-away feeling, what gets revealed is innate tenderness, compassion and love at the core of our being. Meeting this love is ironic: to get to it, we have to pass through to more treacherous terrain of the armor of the heart, but once we meet it, it heals and transforms us into brave and deeply compassionate beings.
This is the core of what I’ve been working with since returning from New York. Under hypnosis, the message came through from my deepest Self and shook what I’d been holding onto loose: Feel Everything.
Every day now, I create time to feel. In a meditation the other night, I found myself weeping, staring right into the eyes of some very old, pushed-away sorrow. But darlings, our souls are beautiful, incandescent things, and our hearts have a wisdom that, once opened, can answer any questions. And so I asked for help from this wise helper within me, and I suddenly saw myself standing with arms open, fists unclenched, following the sorrow clear through to the center of my heart, letting tears fall, whispering to myself, “Open, open…”
…when suddenly a memory sprang up of being 19 years old with that first serious boyfriend, the night he told me about some of the horrible, heartbreaking things he experienced as a child. It was maybe the first time he really let me see him, broken open in tears and shame, as he closed his arms up around himself, trying to hide, sobbing. Instinctively, I moved toward him, gently prying open his arms and fists, coaxing the palms of his hands open at his sides. I crouched down beside him, weeping with him, and put one hand over his heart. “There you are,” I whispered.
As the memory unfolded in my mind, I knew I was being shown something I’d intuitively known when I was just a teenager in the most painful relationship of my life: feel everything. Go to the center, walk into the heart, and feel it. Was it anger I’d felt, or hurt from all I’d gone through with him? Sure. But deeper still, I knew I’d walked into the fire of that relationship so I could understand the fear of women when they are abused and don’t know how to free themselves — and so that I’d witness how perpetrators suffer, too, and how heartbreaking and confusing a truth that is.
And at the core of all of this… was love.
Recalling this memory was the direct link to what I was experiencing with my own resurfacing pain, tucked safely into my own bed, more than 16 years later, and I understood: My soul is teaching me how to feel.
And so, too, is yours. All of ours. No rules. Feel everything. Let it set you free.