I was never allowed to express emotion growing up. As a five year old, that message was already ingrained. I became an expert stuffer. Throughout my life, I’ve been told that I am hard to read. I took pride in that for a long time. That meant I wasn’t weak. I wasn’t vulnerable. I wasn’t stupid enough to risk more rejection and abandonment. Of course, it also meant that I wasn’t actually living. When you stuff, you don’t get to choose which emotions you feel and which ones you don’t. They all get stuffed. I may not have been vulnerable – I may not have cried (shown weakness) in front of people – but I also didn’t truly feel joy, peace, or love.
God has worked mightily in my life to bring me to a point where I could feel emotions and identify them as I was feeling them. When it came to expressing those emotions, however, there was still a wall that I was fighting to keep up because I had pictures running through my head of what happens when I allow myself to express emotions, especially tears, around others. I am an experiential learner. I could hear about, or read about, how crying is natural, human, beneficial, and important in healing and relationship, but that doesn’t change the fact that my experience told me that crying only caused people to walk away. I never had someone hold my hand or put their arm around me or hold me or even just sit with me when I cried. Crying was an isolating thing for me. I was 26 or 27 years old the first time someone actually just held me while I cried. She was the exception in my life, and it was hard for me to stretch that across all of the opposite reactions I had experienced when I allowed myself to fully connect and express my emotions. Even throughout my friendship with her, there were times when others would reinforce those old messages of rejection. Then that would leave me believing my friend was truly the exception in my life, and I could never figure out why she cared – because I certainly didn’t deserve that if everyone else was rejecting me.
This past weekend, I volunteered at a HeartChange workshop again. When I went through HeartChange myself, it changed my life. I keep going back because God keeps showing me more and more of how He sees me, and He keeps working in me to prepare me for His purpose. Over the weekend, someone shared a song that I had never heard before. Music is my language with God. He speaks to me more through music than any other way. And music forces me to connect to my emotions. That was the theme of the weekend for me. He wanted me to allow myself to let the wall down and trust that He had something different for me. And, boy did He pile it on this weekend! 😉 This particular song that was shared is called The Unmaking by Nichole Nordeman (check it out if you haven’t heard it…I’ve been dancing to it for days). When I heard it, I knew that it had a special significance in God’s plan for me that day. I had been fighting Him the entire workshop, knowing what it was He wanted me to do. I told a few people what God was trying to do because I really did want to trust Him, but this was an area that was so risky for me. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle any more rejection. Would there really be anyone there if I let that wall down and just allowed some of those stuffed emotions to come out? When you stuff emotions, they don’t go anywhere. They never just disappear or evaporate. At some point, they have to be released. And God kept telling me that it was time to take that step. But I just kept seeing the pictures in my head of people walking away or trying to fix things when I would cry. Could there be another experience for me? God kept telling me that I would never know if I didn’t try. That’s why I told a couple people about what was going on. I wanted to at least open the door to creating an environment where a different experience could be possible.
On Sunday, I knew He would be pushing my buttons. He allows me to have my process, which involves fighting the step He wants me to take, but then He will gently push me off the cliff if I can’t jump. I knew the push was coming. As I sat where He told me to sit (away from the door so it wasn’t easy to bolt), He told me to look around the room. He said, “This is different than it has ever been. You know that. This is a safe place. These people are safe. You belong here.” And I knew He was right. As I sat there fighting with Him, there were people in that room who were keeping an eye on me, knowing what was happening. The night before, one person had asked me what it would look like when that wall came down and what I needed when it happened. That question almost brought down the wall right then and there because I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she really wanted to know the answer because she wanted to be able to make sure that I had what I needed so this could be a different experience. To feel that as I sat there was huge for me. I still fought, but I knew I was safe.
There’s a line in one of the songs from the workshop that says, “Don’t you think it’s time?” I hear it every workshop, and God taps me on the shoulder each time. But this time, there was no tap. There was a flashing neon sign in my head. Don’t you think it’s time? I knew I wasn’t going to be able to fight much longer. I had a couple of things that I had to take care of so I did those quickly after that song was over, and then I told one of the people keeping an eye on me that I was getting close. Then I sat down and listened for a bit. I wanted to respond to what God was saying to me (there might have been a desire to yell at Him…), but I was sitting in the middle of a room full of people who were trying to pay attention to what was happening in the workshop. So I grabbed some paper and wrote my responses to God as we talked. We went back and forth for a bit before I put my notebook down. I had told Him that He was going to have to push me because I just could not jump. He stood next to me and took my hand. Then He said, “Will you jump with me?” That’s when the ‘down in the trenches’ battle truly began. I had my eyes closed because I knew that if I opened them, I would be pulled out of that space. And I was exactly where I needed to be. When I start to feel a connection with my emotions that is strong enough to produce an outward expression, I get extremely anxious. When I get anxious, I tend to move a lot. Normally, I would have left the room – maybe gone to the bathroom – so I could take some deep breaths and gain control again. But I knew I couldn’t do that. So my leg started bouncing up and down uncontrollably. It was an attempt to distract myself from that emotional connection…to once again regain control. I looked at Him and said, “Do you promise that the result will not be the same as when I’ve jumped before?” His response was, “Will you jump with me and find out?” Of course, that just aggravated me so we spent some time going back and forth because I wanted assurance that the jump would be worth it.
I really had no idea what was going on around me at the time. I was filled in later, but at one point I felt someone standing next to me, and that person began rubbing my back. For an instant, I was tempted to open my eyes just to see who it was, but I knew I couldn’t because I would be pulled from that space, and I needed to be in that space. It was a little while before I finally said that I would jump. My leg stopped bouncing, I took a deep breath, and we jumped. The tears started coming, and I looked at Him and said, “Now what?” He just said, “Stay there. I’ve got this.” I heard someone say that it was time for break which meant that I had a job to do, but it didn’t register in my head. Of course, God really did have it. Someone asked me a question, and I was sure she was talking to me, and I recognized every individual word, but I could not make sense of what she was asking me. Later I realized that God made sure that I couldn’t make sense of it because if I had, I would have immediately pulled myself out of that space, gained control, and gone to do my job. At one point, I felt a hand on me briefly, and even though I wasn’t looking, I knew who had touched me and what it meant. It was the person who had asked me what the wall coming down would look like and what I needed. And in that touch, I knew that she knew, and I knew that she would do everything she could to make sure I got what I needed. I allowed myself to stay in that space and was careful to do what I needed to make sure I didn’t go back up into my head. I told someone that I needed to leave the room because I wouldn’t be able to stay in that space once everyone came back in after break. So a couple of people went to another room with me, and I did my best to allow the emotional release to continue. One of them wasn’t fully aware of what was happening, and I wanted to explain, but I knew that if I started talking, I would go back into my head, and it would become an intellectual, factual thing instead of staying in the emotional state. So I just let her be with me and pray, knowing that God was there and in control. There were a few times when I would get distracted by something I’d hear, and I would feel like I should really be back in the other room ‘doing’ things. Each time, the person with me would speak to it and tell me not to listen to that – that everything was taken care of – that I was where I needed to be. And she just held me. As she did, God brought the pictures up in my head of when people had walked away – the times that I needed nothing more than a hand to hold or a hug. Each individual picture would come to mind, and God would say, “Let her hold you through this. This is what should have happened originally.” Another person came in later and gave me a hug and held me for a bit. I know that happened because God wanted to make sure that I knew that it wasn’t just one or two people who were there for me. The whole thing was this amazing, healing process.
I still have some work to do, but I can no longer say that my one friend is the exception in my life. I have found a place where I belong. I have found people who show me what unconditional love looks like. People who show me that it is ok for me to be me – without judgment or a push to change me. People who show me, in tangible ways, that I don’t have to believe the lie that says I am not good enough and I deserve to be alone. I have found family.
This was where the walls gave way. This was demolition day.
This is my unmaking.