Monday, June 1, 2015

Joy and Pain, Pain and Joy

After years of avoidance, I slowly began to accept my physical vulnerability. Along with this acceptance, I soon learned, to live fully, I must also work to accept and live from the vulnerability of my heart and my soul. When I live in and from this space of vulnerability, both on the outside and the inside, my heart opens wider and my soul digs deeper. This tender space of vulnerability can be painful and it can be joyful. 

When I first started to really practice the phrase, you need to feel it to heal it, I felt, well, awful. All of my not so delicately contained sadness, grief, guilt, anger, and hatred boiled to the surface. The ferociously bubbling water seeped out of my eyes and I continued to wiped the hot and salty tears with tissue, after tissue, after tissue. I knew I needed to feel the pain. I knew, in order to survive, I had to scream until my voice grew hoarse. I knew my dark pain needed to leave my body to make room for any shred of light trying to get inside. Over time, this pain release practice became easier and easier. I became a survivor, instead of someone struggling to survive. Now, I readily identify the lumps in my throat and let them rise and then pass. I practice not bottling up my sad and scary emotions. I even set aside a bit of time each day purely for these tears. And now, after some work and time, I’ve grown accustomed to healing the feeling of pain.

What I, apparently, am not so great at feeling, is joy. I know this sounds a bit funny because I make a practice of noticing gratitude and joy. At night, I record moments I am grateful for, and moments where I noticed joy. I assumed I was doing okay with the whole joy thing. And then this past week happened. This past week of nothing really that bad at all happening happened. I woke up one day to a broken air-conditioner, called my sweet friend, Trey, for help. He ran over right away. My house was cool again in twenty minutes. My wheelchair needed some repairs, but they were easily fixed. Towards the very end of one of our walks, Belle and I ran through a downpour of rain to make it to the car. We were soon dry with a quick wipe of a towel. Nothing bad. Nothing to cry over. But, instead of just simply feeling peaceful and like the flow of life was working with me, I, continuously, felt this giant ball of emotion just sitting in my chest. A few of the days, my eyes felt so heavy, I chose to lie down in my bed for a bit. My eyelids, giving into their weight, fell shut and instead of inducing sleep, they began to weep. Each time this happened over the course of the week, I cried about five minutes and the ball of emotion was gone. I felt infinitely better and far more energized. I bounced out of bed and continued with the day. As this habit started to increase, I also started to wonder what was happening to me. I searched my pain, my fears, my sadness, my anger, trying to find what was new, what was lurking and masking itself as healed. But none of my explanations or reasons seemed to be the culprit behind the new and sudden tears. Anxiety set in and I began to worry.

While I was in this heightened state of emotional awareness, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and noticed a post by Glennon Melton at Momastery. The post was a picture of two words, SACRED/SCARED, that’s it. I looked at the words for a long time. These two words were calling me to pay attention and so I did. And as I stared at them, that ball of emotion crept back up and transformed into more tears. Only this time, I knew why I cried. I wasn’t crying tears of pain all week; I was crying tears of joy.

Emotion is emotion. And I have learned, emotion finds its way to the surface, whether I want it to or not. Emotion, in whatever form, isn’t something I can suppress for very long or keep down without much effort. If this emotion isn’t felt it builds up a pressure that will eventually cause an explosion. 

Recently, I experienced and lived many moments of joy. However, instead of feeling my joy, I escaped into my survivor mentality. I built a fortress to keep too much joy at bay. I decided if I refrained from feeling too much joy, I might not feel so sad when the pain visited again. But just like the pain, the joy will eventually boil over and spill out of my eyes. This method of controlling joy, simply doesn’t work. And in this moment of realization, I found this presumed dichotomy of pain and joy  to not really be that polar opposite at all. Joy lives right along side pain and they work together. By opening my heart at all, I am exposed to both joy and pain. Joy and pain show up, in tandem, when I  watch a baby sleep, or love another person, or fall hard for my dog. There is so much joy to be found in all three of these things, but also so much pain from the fear of losing them. And as tough or practiced as I may be at the pain part, I can’t fully live unless I allow both the pain and the joy to enter. Just listing my moments of joy doesn’t mean anything, if I can’t feel them. There isn’t any other way. I have to feel it to heal it. And I have a bit of a suspicion, the more I practice actually feeling joy, the more joy might show up and ask me to dance.

Vulnerability isn’t about just feeling my pain or knowing my weaknesses. It is also about softening my heart and allowing it to fill with a little bit of joy; even if this allowance of joy makes me vulnerable and scared. Joy is scary because it recognizes a moment when everything is okay, better than okay. A moment where life is lived and it feels really, really good, almost sacred. A moment that can’t possibly live next to all of the pain and fear, but it does. And just like the pain, joy has to be felt. Joy is the light that guides the pain out of the darkness. 

Photo from Glennon Doyle Melton at Momastery. #CarryOnWarrior


  1. So beautifully are so inspiring, and that is so not cliché. You articulate a struggle that is so familiar, so achingly familiar, that while I recognize joy, I don't own it. Thank you, once again, I read often and you are my hero.

    1. Your honesty, kindness, and admission help heal me. I struggle to own joy, too. I am glad I am not alone. Thank you. You are my hero.


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