Published: Tuesday, 17 October 2017 21:58
In two and a half weeks—17 days to be exact—I will leave St. Louis, Missouri and move to Frisco, Texas. As you can imagine, October has been fraught with more tasks to accomplish than are humanly possible in this short time, each one evoking a whole new curtain of feelings—grief, gratitude, anger, fear, hope, melancholy, happiness, nostalgia, and all their many variations.
The hardest part is giving myself time and space to experience these feelings, to express them in a healthy way, learn from them, and release them. That’s what emotional sobriety is—the willingness to acknowledge our emotions, positive and negative, and to actually feel and experience them.
“Sobriety” is a good word for this process. It is so tempting to bury our feelings and opt for familiar, potentially addictive coping strategies—strategies that are readily available and even encouraged for making ourselves feel better—like eating chocolate (or too much of anything, really), drinking alcohol, over-functioning to the point of exhaustion, shopping, Netflix-binging, or using prescription or recreational drugs. These can create a new set of problems with the power to wreak havoc on how we behave and what we say, while the feelings are still there, buried under all the muck.
Yet when we allow ourselves to just experience them, those feelings often dissipate more quickly. I still find this surprising. I’m afraid if I actually feel them, my emotions will be erupting all day, getting bigger and never going away. But what really happens is the opposite: When I just have a good cry, express my fear and anxiety surrounding these changes to a trusted friend, yell at God in the shower, and say “thank you” for the beauty (that I will miss) in the backyard, the intensity passes and I am freed to move on to the next task (and the feeling it will evoke)!
Richard Rohr offers The Welcoming Prayer as a guide to safely experiencing uncomfortable feelings and suffering. Briefly, the steps he identifies include the following:
1. Identify a hurt, offense or negative emotion. Remember the feelings you first experienced with this hurt, and feel them the way you first felt them.
2. Notice how this pain shows up in your body. Paying attention to your body’s sensations keeps you from jumping into a dualistic, analytic mind.
3. After you identify the hurt and feel it in your body, welcome it. Stop fighting it. Stop blaming. Welcome the grief. Welcome the anger. It’s hard, but when we name it, feel it, welcome it, transformation can begin.
4. Stay present in the moment. Any kind of analysis will lead you back into your ego. When you welcome your own pain, you will in some way feel the pain of the whole world. This is what it means to be human, and also what it means to be divine. Remember that you, too, are being held by the very One who went through this process on the cross, when Jesus held the pain of the whole world.
5. Now hand all of this pain—yours and the world’s—over to God. Let it go. Ask for the grace of forgiveness for the person who hurt you, for the event that offended you, for the reality of suffering in each life. The pain may or may not leave easily, but letting go frees up soul-energy that liberates us to move toward our True Self.
Truth to tell, my own emotional sobriety and welcoming prayers during this moving process have been a mixed bag. I have accepted some feelings and welcomed them, acknowledged the loss or the truth that accompanied them, let them go, and moved forward. Other times, not so much. For example, I have been projecting my mixed feelings about moving onto my sister who lives in Dallas, as though she didn’t want me moving nearer to her. The truth is that I haven’t wanted to move away from my two adult children, who are remaining in Missouri. Oh! And did I mention that I’ve bought four pairs of new shoes in as many months?
Which reminds me—a part of achieving emotional sobriety and the forgiveness we seek in The Welcoming Prayer is finding self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. I am not doing any of this perfectly, and that’s okay. And, yes, I did apologize to my sister!