Like many of you, I woke up to a beautiful morning in DC and quickly felt an ache in my heart about what our country and world is enduring right now. As a business owner and therapist in Washington DC, I’ve had the week to reflect and work through how to prepare my family and our clients for sheltering at home, loss of income/jobs, increased stress and worry about our loved ones, and so much uncertainty. To manage the stress, I’ve committed my mornings to a few minutes of quiet reflection and my evenings to reading one of my now favorite authors, Glennon Doyle, who just published her 3rd book, “Untamed” [https://untamedbook.com/].
In her latest book, Glennon talks about “The Ache” that all of us feel as living and loving human beings going through life together. She beautifully writes about the life lesson that I encounter in therapy with my clients on a daily basis—we have to enter “The Ache” to heal and connect with others. What does this mean exactly? And, how does it apply to such a massive health crisis?
In my opinion, this concept applies to pain, both big and small. Let me describe what I think Glennon is talking about. When we have emotional pain–fear, anger, worry, sadness—we almost always have a reaction. That reaction is our best attempt at coping with a feeling that overwhelms us. As resilient adaptive beings, we then try to do something with the feeling. When it is just enough for our situation or our system, we can approach our feelings with care and attention to come up with a plan about what to do next. When it is too much to manage well, we often either act it out or avoid it. We then find ourselves in those feeling traps—we blame, we hide, we drink, we eat, we rage, we criticize, we freeze, we shame, we fight, and more, right?
The mistakes we make in dealing with our feelings, both big and small, are this. We associate feelings with what makes us feel bad [often reactions by or toward us]. We link our feelings with ours or others negative behaviors and blame the feelings. We forget to befriend our feelings in these instances. We don’t know how to manage “The Ache.” So we flail and fail and stay stuck in our pain, either fighting it or avoiding it.
Here are a few tips for managing “The Ache.” Glennon reminds us that “The Ache” is our calling to feel something for the sake of connection and healing. Yet, Anxiety begs us to avoid. Anger directs us to fight. In order to feel more and connect more with each other in such scary and painful times, we need to move past our anxiety and go through our anger in order to feel (just for a moment) our sadness and fear. Those in recovery (from addiction, eating disorders, relationship trauma, etc.) understand and have integrated this process into their daily lives. Emotions are energy in relationships. When we allow them to exist purely without doing anything about them right away, we have a chance to connect more fully to the moment, to our loved ones, and to our humanity.
As loving, connecting humans, we tend to do this naturally in times of crisis. Doesn’t everyone remember the wake of 9/11? Neighbors smiled at each other more. People fell in love more deeply. We all grieved and woke up together as we moved through our pain.
I’m not suggesting that we dismiss or ignore our feelings and convert them into a silver lining. I’m also not suggesting that we live and breathe our pain minute-by-minute about this crisis. I’m offering a moment to each of us–to wake up, to feel what there is to feel together for a moment, and to let yourself have a moment of fear or loss in order to know what is the next right step. And, when you become overwhelmed with emotion, seek comfort in ways that help you feel more with others rather than feel less. If you’re struggling or stuck, give yourself some help. Reach out to a friend, a therapist, or a virtual support group. You just need a gentle guide, another feeling and breathing human being who can help you feel, endure, and move through “The Ache.”