Tessie Naranjo, a sociologist from the Tewa Village of Santa Clara, summed up an inner longing for peace and absence of pain when she observed “It’s the most precious thing…to know absolutely where you belong. There’s a whole emotional wrapping-around-of-you-here. You see the same rock, tree, road, clouds, sun – you develop a nice kind of intimacy with the world around you. To be intimate is to grow, to learn… [it] is absolutely fulfilling. Intimacy, that’s my magic word…”
The Question of Belonging
As we examine the first steps in healing emotional pain, we have to come to center. This may be the most important question that you ask yourself to date. Where do you belong? Why? Are you deliberate about that choice, and is it what you dream of for your life? A recent friend confessed to me that she “married young, and now that there are so many demands on our life, now that I’ve matured, I have realized that this is about as far from what my soul craves to be that it’s not funny.” Her dream? To attend college and become a nurse. Her reality? In rural America, four children, low income, high debt, strained relationship with spouse. Counseling isn’t going well, not because they don’t love each other – it’s just grown to a state of near catatonic responsibility. Can it be revived? Only if they both go back to the place where they veered apart and begin to communicate. Is there pain? Yes…not from loss so much as a lack of fulfillment. I go back to this question that I asked her ~ “Where do you belong?”
Emotional pain has deep roots in this question of belonging and who we are. As a woman in a western culture, here in the middle of America’s corn farm country, I hear the echoes of needing to belong in my own soul. I see it in my home choice ~ built in the first year of the civil war, our home has deep roots, history. I need this kind of stability in my life of tumult. I grew up with no roots, no real “home” as in a place that you can return to as an adult from a highly dysfunctional family. So our “belonging” might be reactive to needs that were borne in us as children, young adults, persons who are married, persons who are divorced…human beings living life. The challenge is…do you know what you really want in life? I don’t mean a new dream or hope that is pinned on emotion or desire. In the core of your person, what and who are you called to be? Emotional pain often limits our ability to dream and acknowledge our possibilities by saying “You were nothing before, you will be nothing forever. You cannot ever be anything more than _______.” Once you fill in that blank with your deep pain, you’re going to be able to acknowledge that YOU are not limited by your past. I don’t care if you got a GED five years after your graduating class, you can still achieve a PhD if that is your calling.
LIFE PRINCIPAL: Nothing that you can imagine, work for, dream of is impossible unless you believe it is. Without faith, even the most simple moments become unobtainable in life.
Using a clean sheet of paper, find yourself a pencil and a calm, clear space in which to focus for a few minutes. Where do you belong? Try to answer in terms of need for this exercise, not specifics like “I belong with my child at home.” Okay, it’s a given that those of us who are married or parents may well say “I belong with _____.” That is not what we’re looking for. What we’re striving to see is that reality that you pray and believe into, forming dreams and goals for the future. Here is my example:
“I belong in a world where listening is important, and there is a high value on human need in the eyes of faith. I belong in the place where I can trust the man that I love with the depths of my heart and back again, knowing that his word is as reliable as my own heartbeat. I belong in a town where people know one another, speak at the grocery, laugh and cry with you. I belong in a workspace that allows me to connect with my own creativity, to write, to talk with people about life, to learn constantly. I belong in a physical space that is solid, filled with nature, unique, historical. I belong in a faith that is not condemning, not accusing but will still love you enough to speak the truth, and for me specifically, the truth in Christ. I belong in sensual intimacy with the one person who shares my most intimate thoughts, my most intimate moments, all of my dreams…and all of his as well. I belong is a world permeated by faith hope and love, surrounded by people who breathe possibility into their own hopes as well…”
Without these things, I experience emotional pain in my daily life. If I act in violation of these basic belonging needs my anxiety will raise, emotional pain will increase and I will react by experiencing decreased joy and happiness. So that question becomes inherently important to how you react to life on a daily basis, and how you react to emotional pain caused by outside sources. Emotional pain is sometimes our warning signal as well. It may be telling you that you are isolating, robbing yourself of a place of intimacy – you’ve had to change the way that you deal with an altered reality. This leads us back to the place of emotional pain from outside circumstances.
The concept of letting go is overused in our society, the idea of “closure” without the work that goes behind it. It is when you allow the pain of your loss to come into your soul, to feel the authenticity of it, to acknowledge it’s presence that you are more able to take that step of healing and faith that “lets go.” Let’s put this scenario of attachment as a snapshot that we can all understand, a word picture to get the point across.
Imagine being in a comfortable room where you have history. Only now, you look around and the comfort is no longer there…the room is decayed, and the floor is flooded with ice cold water. It’s dark, with shadows that you are not comfortable with, even though the light still has a little golden to it. The temperature is unkind to you, and no matter what you do, there is no comfort to be found save little flashes here and there when the sun rises for just a moment and you can feel the warmth through the window. As soon as that moment of emotional sunlight passes, you are back into the darkness of waiting for a change that is not going to come.
You go to the door and feel the panic ~ you can’t take what was in that room with you. “His” memory is there, “her” memory is there…your history is there. It’s what you know. You try to reach for the handle and feel panic in your chest, and go back to the soggy couch, reviewing the scenes on the walls, the photographs in your heart. You replay your story, the promises that used to fill this space. Your mind knows that leaving the room is the best option, for there are many rooms in the world waiting to love, fill your life with grace, treat you with respect and dignity. Some of the terrain between rooms is tough…and you’re afraid to leave where you are. It’s been what you know, and it wasn’t always this way, this hard. But you’re tired of being alone, cold, in the dark. You long for the sun and warmth on your face for more than a moment.
Relationship loss is a lot like this. Those who are left often wait in the room that has fallen apart, not realizing that the relationship cannot be restored in what “used to be.” Those married people who reunite after any form of separation have found that they need to fall in love again with the changed person that looks sort of like the person they married long ago. For Brian and I, it was discovering who we are in our forty something phase that is much different when we were thirty-somethings. We’re much more fun now. Of course the room is a metaphor for what we encapsulate in our hearts, and how we harbor pain without realizing that we’re feeding the wolf who is stalking us.
Turning the Knob.
How do you get from the imaginary couch, past the haunting loss and to the doorway? How to grasp the handle? First, realize that pain is in some ways, your friend. It’s telling you that something has to change. If you’re in emotional pain constantly in your life, male or female, your mind and heart are tying desperately to tell you something. Determining what that is is the real trick.
First, don’t treat the pain as a single instance, look for the source. If you’re recently single, avoid the idea “it’s becasue she left me.” Although that is painful rejection, it’s not the source of the pain. The pain comes from something more, like fear of failure in relationship, missing the intimacy that was shared, a need for love and acceptance that has been stunted. Most relationships that end don’t do so in a vacuum and most of us have time to process long before the final split takes place. Perhaps your pain comes from being cheated on by the person that you still live with. Again, the real pain is the loss of trust and faith that will be life long, even when forgiveness is present. For this reason, less than thirty percent of couples who experience infidelity remain together long term, especially when the issues are not properly resolved in counseling.
The first step in letting go then is to a.) know where you belong. Have a sense of self that is not reliant on anyone else, on what people think of you, on social pressures. Know thyself. b.) Recognize your game state. This is life, not a test. I know that it’s hard to do, but take a serious life assessment minus any real drama. For instance, write out those dreams and goals that support your “belonging.” How does this life mirror the one that you live? c.) Recognize relational break downs for what they are. I had to return to a time in my life that happened to be captured on video tape when I was teaching a class, and watched myself teach for an hour, realizing that on that day….I was happy and well. The person that hurt me so badly later in life was already out there and the world simply continued spinning around. Not only was the universe fine without his presence, so was I. My painful friendship was not worth what it was costing me in self esteem or damage to possibilities I could conceive. Dreaming had become dependent on another person, not on faith.
LIFE PRINCIPAL: When you rely on another person to “make” you happy, you have chosen to fail. Happiness comes from within you, and is your responsibility.
J. Donald Walters once said “happiness is not a brilliant climax to years of grim struggle and anxiety. It is a long succession of little decisions simply to be happy in the moment.” This is how we turn the door knob to the room that is attachment, the first step in letting go. It’s on bleeding knees that we rise up from our place of weeping, crawl if necessary to the opening in the wall and throw open the door by knowing that every little decision of health and wellness takes you one step closer to the edge of the tree line, out of the forest and into the sun.