Years ago, after my first divorce, I worked with author and life coach GuruMeher Khalsa. GuruMeher means compassionate teacher. In not so many words, he told me that all strong emotions resurface so they can heal us, and they will keep resurfacing until they do.
The problem was that since I was a little girl, every time I felt an emotion I found unpleasant, I either repressed or avoided it. This practice translated to me accepting bad behavior from others. I did it for the sake of keeping the peace with and for those around me.
The pattern began during my early childhood with me appeasing my older brother, who often attacked me physically, and my father, who only had to whip me with a belt once. From then on, I did my best to be the obedient and perfect child.
During my teens and adulthood, my subservience to others, as well as my inner truth, led to my development of an eating disorder, panic attacks, and, eventually, debilitating anxiety. By this period in my life, these coping mechanisms also stemmed from my mother’s abandonment of my father, brother, and me when I was 14 and were exacerbated by a string of bad relationships and eventually marriages that followed as I tried to fill the dark void of grief leftover from my childhood.
At the time, I heard GuruMeher’s words. However, they didn’t resonate with me until I attended a three-day healing workshop with another life coach following my second divorce. It was there that I finally understood what his words meant.
The structure of the workshop was not uncommon but not one I was familiar with either, which meant I had no idea what I was walking into. On the first day, the instructor built all of the attendees up. She said she was happy to have us there and knew it wasn’t easy for us. So far, so good was my initial thought.
On the second day, however, the workshop took a turn. The tone was much different from day one and went from a welcoming space to a place where condemnation was welcome. First, every attendee had to get up in front of the group to tell their story. What had brought them there that day? Then, with the instructor’s blessing, the audience was allowed to chastise the person who had just shared. After I spoke, I was informed I was a pathetic victim, and my looks would not last forever.
By the time I returned to my room later that night, I was devastated. I felt like a loser and a failure. I chastised myself: What had I made of my life so far? Worse, where was I headed? Based on the day’s events, it appeared nowhere fast or good. It’s surprising even to me now that I didn’t pack my bags and go home. Instead, I showed up on the third day of class. I figured it couldn’t get much worse than what I had already experienced. Oh, was I mistaken.
On the third day, the instructor organized us into breakout groups. Once in our rooms, we had to go as far back as we could remember and share a story describing a time when we felt intense emotional pain. I closed my eyes.
Once I did, I saw myself in my mother’s womb. I recalled to the group how I felt unloved and scared from the time even before I was born. Painful feelings surfaced as I remembered how my mother told me long after she had abandoned me that she never wanted to be a mother. As she recounted to me, she had apathetically promised God right after my birth that she would take care of me only until I turned 18. Then she would leave. As time would tell, she would break her promise early.
Unlike the day before, the floor was not opened to comments. Instead, we were directed to our own mats and told to “sit with our story.” Wow, this was going to be an easier day, I said to myself. It was. That is until moments later when I began to sob uncontrollably. No matter how hard I tried to stop, I couldn’t. It felt like I was releasing a lifetime of tears and pain I had bottled up inside me. I was mortified. I couldn’t believe I was acting so emotionally in a public setting.
But, much to my surprise, when I stopped crying, I felt better. Not just better, different. I was relieved as if a giant weight had been lifted off of me. And it had. However, there was more to just my change in disposition and getting emotions off my chest; I got to watch others do the same.
When we suffer individually, when events in our life cause us pain, we aren’t usually aware of the pain experienced by others. But the truth is we’re all in pain at different points in our lives. If you don’t believe me, look around at the broad scale of suffering in the world. The only distinguishing factor between us and someone else is how close to the surface their pain lives. If you stop for a moment to watch and listen, you can often recognize the pain you’ve been living with as well as the pain someone else is.
Think about the friend you have who’s angry all the time or the gas station attendant who seems distracted. Or the mother from your child’s school who can’t stop gossiping about everyone but becomes deeply offended when she hears she’s the subject of the same idle talk. Most likely, these people are behaving this way to mask their pain.
The reason is that feeling the pain, doing the work to feel pain, isn’t an easy job. It’s much easier to cover it up. I discovered precisely how heart-wrenching exploring pain can be during the workshop. Though I felt better after, I was drained from the experience. But the point is that not only did I survive, but by releasing all of those deep painful emotions inside me, my heart was purified. I felt cleansed.
The fourth day thus became one of celebration. Our instructor congratulated us for our courageousness and our willingness to be vulnerable. She next had us form a long line, and one by one, each of us walked past all the other participants, looking into their eyes as we did.
What I saw was compassion, sadness, acceptance, and love in many of the souls as my eyes met theirs. I knew then that God would never give me more than I could handle and that, moving forward, I could endure and tolerate painful moments and the emotions that go along with them. I felt victorious. I had finally released much of the grief that had been causing the dark void in my heart.
The Bible tells us that God wants us to go from victory to victory, from love to ever-increasing amounts of love. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) He wants us to know we can release our painful emotions over to His mercy and compassion to cleanse our hearts so that He can fill them with more light, life, and love.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had to use unhealthy coping mechanisms to keep feelings buried or fill any black holes in my heart because my heart has been born of God’s. My heart is where He lives. The Bible also says, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)
Indeed, we achieve victory through our faith in His abiding and unconditional love and ability to heal our wounds, including our emotional ones. Until one day, when they’re all gone, and only love remains.
If you would like to learn more about how to improve your life through an approach of feeding the whole person, body, soul, and spirit, follow me on my blog, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and Medium. If you would like to work with me, schedule a session today.
Tonyah Dee has studied the Bible and wisdom traditions of the world for the last 30 years and teaches about finding ways to increase inner strength, stability, and confidence through practicing spiritual disciplines and healthy habits daily. Tonyah is a nutritionist, registered dietitian (R.D.), and earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Loma Linda University. She also holds certifications in Christ-centered life coaching, equine therapy, and meditation. Tonyah has been published in Scary Mommy, MSN, The Mighty, Mantra Wellness, CoveyClub, Thrive Global. Follow Tonyah on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and Medium.