We all lead busy lives. Being a parent, working a full time job and providing mental and emotional support to a husband with cancer can be exhausting. Particularly as the emotional support structure, we often feel the need to be strong. We can be so focused on taking care of everything and everyone else, it is easy to ignore our own emotional needs.
Dealing with the impacts of a spouse with cancer is an emotional roller coaster. When we don’t take time to process the emotions we feel as a result of the latest doctor appointment or test result, we’ll end up trying to stuff or mask our emotions through other means. This can come in the form of a late night binge or sleepless nights or drowning ourselves in a bottle of wine. I know because I’ve done all of them.
Those activities just serve as a band-aid and give us a temporary reprieve from what we may be feeling. Under the band-aid, we’ll continue to bleed. The emotions will continue to resurface because we never actually process them. This can go for for years if you let it.
Here is the good news. Emotions can’t harm us. No, really! They are simply vibrations in our bodies. Anger may feel like a tightness in your chest. Grief and sadness may feel like an emptiness or pit in your stomach. Unpleasant, yes but that is it. Yet, we spend so much energy trying to avoid them or stuff them because we are literally afraid to feel them. What are we so afraid of?
The ironic thing is, the quickest way out of an emotion is directly through it. That means you need to allow yourself the space to feel and be present with your emotion.
So, how do we do this? Most of us know very well how to avoid emotions, but we don’t actually know how to feel them. As kids, well meaning adults would say things like “it’s OK, don’t be sad.” Then our culture reinforces the expectation that we should be happy all the time. Just look at the commercials. We really never actually learn how to accept and feel our emotions.
The first step to feeling is awareness. Ask yourself what you are feeling. Name it and describe it. Put the words on paper if you can. This process helps to put you in an observer status and will separate you a bit from the intensity of the emotion.
Then you need to give yourself permission to feel whatever your feeling. Sadness, anger, frustration… No matter how inconvenient. Allow yourself to just feel it. Tell yourself that it’s not going to be pleasant, but that’s OK. Despite what you may think, you don’t have to always be strong or stay positive. The truth is, the human experience is made up of both positive and negative emotions. That is a beautiful thing because it provides us the contrast in life.
Recently, I posted that we received my husband’s scan results and they showed his cancer had spread. I had coached myself prior to getting this news, so really felt determined to keep seeking answers. A few days later however, some of my other emotions caught up with me. I woke up on a Saturday after not having slept well and just felt sad. We had family plans so I really didn’t want to be feeling that way. Who wants to spend their Saturday feeling sad? But I gave myself permission to just allow the sadness to be there. It didn’t go quickly, but it did go. I actually felt a sense of lightness afterward.
So ask yourself, what is it that you have been afraid to feel? Are there emotions lurking that have driven you to the fridge or the bottom of the wine bottle? Remember, emotions themselves can’t hurt us. They are just vibrations in our bodies. Only when you feel them and allow them to be there will you be able to process and move through that emotion.
Try it and let me know how it goes!